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A brave judge's uplifting legacy

Jim Crow segregation in the American South, like the human bondage that preceded it, is now a disgraceful memory.

But that race-based scourge was still deeply entrenched in this region when Julius Waties Waring became a federal judge more than seven decades ago. And digging that poisonous fruit out by the roots demanded extraordinary deeds by extraordinary people.

Judge Waring was one of those special individuals - and will be deservedly honored today for his bold rulings in favor of racial fairness.

Assorted dignitaries, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, will pay tribute to the transformational jurist in a ceremony unveiling a statue of him at Charleston's Federal Courthouse.

Many 21st century Americans can't fully grasp the great courage required for a judge living in the South of that time to take on the reigning institutional, legalized and cultural bigotry.

And Judge Waring suffered widespread scorn for repeatedly ruling against segregation laws that violated basic human rights.

In his 1951 opinion on Briggs v. Elliott, that son of a Confederate veteran wrote as a member of the federal appellate court in Charleston:

"I am of the opinion that all of the legal guideposts, expert testimony, common sense and reason point unerringly to the conclusion that the system of segregation in education adopted and practiced in the state of South Carolina must go and go now. Segregation is per se inequality."

South Carolinians today recognize the "common sense and reason" of that obvious judicial conclusion.

Yet Judge Waring issued that opinion in dissent as the two other judges on the panel upheld the "separate but equal" doctrine that perpetuated school segregation.

Judge Waring became a pariah here in his hometown for challenging that blatant, long-term lie of alleged equality in a public education system that consigned black South Carolinians to inferior facilities and resources.

Widely ostracized throughout South Carolina, he resigned from the bench in 1952 and moved to New York City, where he died in 1968. He then came home in death to be buried at Charleston's Magnolia Cemetery.

And Briggs v. Elliott, including his persuasive dissent, became one of the cases grouped under Brown v. Board of Education, in which the U.S. Supreme Court finally - and unanimously - outlawed racial segregation in public schools in 1954.

Judge Waring also rendered brave decisions to give black teachers equal pay and advance voting rights for minorities.

Our state still suffers from its history of segregation.

But Judge J. Waties Waring's distinguished legacy as a driving force for equality will endure.

And the judge's statue at the courthouse will serve as a reminder of the uplifting power of the law - and his indispensable contribution to justice.

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