Attack on Judge Waring's home

U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring stands in his Meeting Street home the day after it was attacked in October 1950. The arrow on the photo points out where the piece of a concrete block tore through a screen before hitting the front door. Police at the time dismissed the attack as a prank by children. File

Waties Waring and his wife, Elizabeth, were playing canasta in their living room when the first brick crashed through the window.

Shattered glass flew across the room as another projectile hit the front door. The Warings dove for the floor, certain they had heard gunfire.

Waring, still spry at 70, crawled to the dining room and called the police. Calmly, he told them what was happening and hung up the phone.

It was 9 p.m. on Oct. 9, 1950, and the home of a federal judge was under attack.

He had always assumed it would come to this. The Warings had been receiving threatening phone calls almost every night for the past few weeks. Recently, men had accosted Elizabeth on the street, called her a "witch." One day a man came to the door with a petition calling for the judge's impeachment. He said he was from the Ku Klux Klan. And seven months earlier, someone had burned a cross in his yard. It was clear that a lot of people wanted Julius Waties Waring off the bench and out of Charleston - no matter what.

For years, Judge Waring had joked that no one in Charleston would speak to him on the street save for lawyers, and they only did it because they were afraid not to.

His hometown had shunned him, exiled him from its prestigious clubs. His friends acted as if he did not exist, and some of his own family publicly ridiculed him.

Locals claimed he had been ostracized for the sin of divorce. To be sure, divorce was not even legal in the state at the time, and it had long been a path to social exclusion in Charleston. Waring had not only left his socially connected wife - he then had the audacity to marry a Yankee.

But in truth, much of the animosity toward Waring was simply the Old South fighting for a lost cause with its dying breath.

This week, a statue to Waring will be unveiled in the park behind the federal courthouse. The monument is a nod to an unsung hero who orchestrated the end of segregation on the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. It was a ruling that owed everything to Waring.

In the five years leading up to the attack on his home, Waring had done something no one thought possible in the South. He had eliminated segregation in his courtroom, he had declared that black teachers deserved the same pay as their white counterparts. And worst of all, he had declared the state's insular Democratic primary open to black voters.

Waring believed that the rally cry of Southern politicians - "separate but equal" - was inherently unequal, and he was trying to change that. The reaction was swift and harsh. State officials asked that he be removed from the bench. Southern congressmen threatened impeachment. Now they were attacking his wife, his home.

But Waring was not a man easily intimidated.

"You can expect this sort of thing in South Carolina," he told reporters. "It's a state dominated by the Klan - a crime-committing Klan that has gone unpunished. . We do not live in darkest Africa. We live in darkest South Carolina."

It seemed the entire state was against Waring. The local police quickly dismissed the attack on 61 Meeting St. as a kids' prank and the FBI closed its own investigation within days.

But the judge would not give up. Within a year of the attack, Waties Waring would set into motion a chain of events that ultimately led to Brown v. Board of Education, and changed the course of American history.

All it cost him was Charleston.

The statue of Waring that will be unveiled Friday sits just a block from the house where he was attacked in 1950.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel and dozens of local attorneys, including Thomas Tisdale, raised the money to commission the statue. The dedication will be attended by the entire 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the state Supreme Court, more than a dozen federal judges as well as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

"We are reclaiming the legacy of Judge Waring. He's been lost to history," Gergel said. "Waring set off a chain of events that began the most transformative change in American history."

Nothing in Waring's background hinted at such a future.

He was born in Charleston on July 27, 1880 - the scion of the prominent Waring and Waties families and a son of a Confederate veteran.

He was an eighth-generation Charlestonian. His ancestors had arrived in Charles Towne just 13 years after it was settled in 1670. Warings had dominated the city ever since.

Waring's father, Edward, married Anna Waties, joining two prominent families just after the Civil War. The couple struggled through Reconstruction, as much of Charleston did. Still, young Waties Waring - given both his parents' surnames - was sent to a private school and, finally, the College of Charleston. He graduated with honors, second in his class.

Waring had decided on a career in law. His great-grandfather, Thomas Waties, had been a delegate to the state's Constitutional convention, his maternal grandfather a chancellor with the state court of equity.

The law was in his blood. It had to be - the Warings could not afford to send Waties to law school. Waring did his legal studies on his own, apprenticing in a Charleston law firm. After two years, he passed the bar exam and took a job with J.P. Kennedy Bryan's firm.

When Waring married the socially connected Annie Gammell in 1913, he seemed to be following a path through Charleston society that was almost pre-ordained. The Warings lived a few steps from St. Michael's church, which they attended, and the federal courthouse where he would soon work. In 1914 Waring was hired as an assistant U.S. attorney.

After six years, Waring returned to a private practice and had no shortage of clients. His brother, Tom, was editor of The Evening Post and Waring represented both it and The News and Courier.

By the time he reached middle age, Waring was as connected as anyone in town. He was an officer in the Charleston Light Dragoons, a member of the St. George's and St. Cecilia societies. He also dabbled in Democratic politics, often on behalf of his friend and mentor, city alderman Burnet Maybank.

When Maybank ran for mayor in 1931, Waring helped with his campaign then became an influential voice in the administration. He served as corporation counsel, or city attorney.

Waring kept Maybank on solid legal ground for nearly a decade, and then helped him win the governor's office. It was an ugly campaign. Maybank's opponent in the Democratic primary, Wyndham Meredith Manning, claimed "voting irregularities" - apparently 95 percent of Charleston residents had voted, nearly all of them for Maybank. Waring defended his friend against the charges.

"The astonishing thing was not that Maybank received over 20,000 votes," Waring said, "but that Manning received more than 1,300."

Four years later, after his term as governor, Maybank was elected to the U.S. Senate. This gave Waring two advocates in high position. The senior senator, Ellison DuRant Smith, had relied on Waring's counsel in his 1938 re-election campaign. But "Cotton Ed" Smith ignored most of Waring's advice to tone down his segregationist rhetoric. It played well in South Carolina.

Soon after Maybank took office, he and Smith recommended Waring for a vacancy on the federal bench.

And in early 1942, Julius Waties Waring became a federal judge.

Waring's first years on the bench were fairly typical.

He heard the cases of several people accused of violating wartime rationing laws, and was harsh in his sentencing.

In late 1943, Waring heard his first case involving teacher pay. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had brought a suit that claimed South Carolina paid black teachers far less than their white counterparts.

Waring was impressed with the NAACP's young lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, and ruled in his favor, demanding the state equalize pay between black and white teachers within two years.

At the time, Waring was dealing with his own problems. Word around town was his marriage had fallen apart. The Warings kept up the façade for a while. But in early 1945 the judge asked Annie to move to Florida and filed for divorce, because it was not legal to do so in South Carolina at the time.

Annie Waring did as she was asked after Waring confessed that he was in love with Elizabeth Hoffman, a woman who - along with her husband - played bridge with the couple. By the spring, the Warings were divorced, and so was Elizabeth.

Locals disapproved, and Waring's invitations to social events soon dried up. He was furious that his friends would not accept his new wife. The divorce was bad enough, but Elizabeth was unpopular because of her dim view of Southern ways. She was openly critical of locals, and much too liberal for Charleston.

Waring could not help but see the injustice that his new wife protested. He presided over a case in which a black man was in debt to his employer, a farmer. The two had a falling out and the man quit, but the farmer kidnapped him, forcing him to work on the farm for $1 a day.

Waring put the farmer in prison for violating the man's civil rights.

In 1946, Waring heard the case of a black Army veteran, Isaac Woodward Jr., who was taken off a bus in Batesburg and beaten by local police. They claimed he was drunk. The federal government filed suit against the police.

Woodward testified that he had asked the driver to let him use the restroom when they stopped to pick up more passengers. When the driver told him to sit back down, Woodward asked the driver to "talk to me like I'm talking to you. I'm a man just like you."

The driver called the police.

When the jury acquitted the police after less than 20 minutes, Waring was distraught. He chose to strike back where he had the power - in his courtroom. He ended the practice of segregating audiences and juries, and hired a black man to serve as bailiff. Such changes did not go unnoticed in Charleston. But for the moment, few people said anything.

In 1947 Waring declared war. That year he heard a case challenging the all-white Democratic primary, and ruled that the party could not exclude black citizens from voting. The Constitution, he said, gave all men the right to vote in whatever primary they chose.

"It is time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union," Waring said. "It is time to fall in step with the other states and to adopt the American way of conducting elections.

Locals were furious. Even his nephew expressed outrage in the pages of The News and Courier.

"It would have been edifying to the citizens of his state," Tom Waring Jr., the paper's editor, wrote, "had Judge Waring informed them how long South Carolina has been out of the Union."

That was an accurate assessment of local feelings. It was not just Waring's opinions that upset people. It was the disdain the judge and his wife seemed to hold for their neighbors. It was an attitude that did not set well with Charleston, or the state.

Waring's ruling prompted Southerners opposed to civil rights to walk out of the Democratic national convention and establish the Dixiecrat party. They nominated Gov. Strom Thurmond for president of the United States.

The backlash against Waring's ruling was so intense it even sparked a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Politicians got involved. Charleston Congressman Mendel Rivers asked for an investigation of Waring's conduct on the bench - the first step toward impeachment.

Through most of this, Waring and his bride lived in solitude. There were phone calls, a burning cross in the yard, constant ridicule. When lightning struck the house next to Waring's Sullivan's Island beach home, the owner put up a sign that said, "Dear God, he lives next door."

By 1950, the threats had become routine. Spotted at a hardware store buying a mouse trap, Elizabeth was defiant. "I am more afraid of a mouse than the whole Ku Klux Klan," she said

Soon after that came the attack on 61 Meeting St. The attackers knew the Warings would be home.

At that point, they had nowhere else to go.

One month after his home was attacked, Waring held a pre-trial conference on a case out of Clarendon County.

At the request of local residents, the NAACP had filed suit against the school district to provide bus services to black schools. There was little question that "separate but equal" wasn't working. The state spent nearly $400,000 on white schools in the county that served 2,400 students. The black schools got $282,000 and educated nearly three times as many children.

Marshall argued the state should honor its laws on equality, but Waring said he was aiming too low, that segregation by its definition was not equal. Marshall was hesitant to challenge the law of the land in the South. He knew that such a case would be heard by a three-judge panel - and he did not expect to find two sympathetic judges in the South. But Waring insisted.

Briggs v. Elliott would become the first legal challenge to "separate but equal" in the South. When the three-judge panel ruled after a month of testimony, it went exactly as Marshall expected. Only Waring sided with the plaintiffs.

Waring wrote a dissent, arguing that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was meant to confer blacks full rights of citizens, that segregation was a "unreasonable, unscientific and . unadulterated prejudice."

His arguments, his "passion for justice," would not carry the day. But a Charleston businessman and NAACP leader, Arthur J. Clement Jr., told Waring that he would one day be proven right.

"I have the belief that your dissent today will be the assent in an early tomorrow . and at some later date, the South will raise a monument to you," Clement wrote.

In early 1952, Waring retired from the bench. He and Elizabeth moved to New York City, leaving Charleston forever.

Waring left with the knowledge that something big was on the horizon. He understood that the ruling of any three-judge panel was automatically appealed to the United States Supreme Court. As Gergel notes, Waring had manipulated the system to put the issue of segregation on the docket of the country's highest court.

It was a masterstroke. A year after Waring retired, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the appeal of five school segregation cases, including Briggs v. Elliott, under the title Brown v. Board of Education. And in 1954 the court ruled that state laws requiring separate black and white school districts were unconstitutional.

It was a death knell for segregation, and the beginning of a decade of civil rights victories.

The Supreme Court had relied heavily on Waring's dissent, but did not credit the judge. The justices feared any opinion with Waring's name attached would not be accepted in the South.

But Waring had made a difference, and the right people knew. The day of the ruling, the head of the NAACP visited the retired judge at his apartment to thank him.

Waring became a leading voice in the civil rights movement. In 1957, he appeared on a PBS talk show, "The Open Mind," where he discussed the challenges facing "the new negro" with a young Alabama preacher named Martin Luther King Jr.

Every year, the country was drawing closer and closer to Waring's vision for a country where all men are created equal. He would live to see most of it.

Waring died on Jan. 11, 1968. His final request was to return to Charleston and be buried in Magnolia Cemetery, where so many of his ancestors had been laid to rest.

"Following the death of Judge J. Waties Waring in 1968, The Charleston News and Courier, then edited by his nephew, Thomas R. Waring Jr. (who was also my father), wrote, 'He was a judge of uncommon ability that was recognized and admired by all, regardless of opinion,'" said local attorney Tom Waring, the judge's great-nephew. "Judge Waring's courage in issuing his visionary rulings has been vindicated with the passage of time, and they remain the law of the land."

Waring is not a household name today, but some people have never forgotten his work. When the hearse carrying the judge passed through the gates of Magnolia Cemetery, 200 black residents fell in line behind it and walked Waring to his grave.