‘We owe it to them:’ Summerton community unveils three historical markers

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Published: Sep. 5, 2021 at 3:39 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Summerton Community Action Group unveiled three historical markers in the town related to the Briggs v. Elliott case that was the first of five cases moved forward to the Supreme Court as Brown v. the Board of Education.

“If that group of petitioners didn’t stay united, we wouldn’t be standing here today celebrating,” said State Senator Kevin Johnson of District 36.

The first sign marks St. Mark AME Church in Summerton where the NAACP held fundraisers, rallies, and public meetings to band parents together in demanding equal transportation in schools for black students. At the time, only white students had school buses which forced black students to walk many miles to and from school each day.

“If we all do our jobs to the best of our abilities, we can get done what needs to be done,” said Congressman Jim Clyburn.

The second sign marks the Briggs family home where Harry Briggs, Sr. signed a petition against Clarendon County School Board President R. W. Elliott who refused to supply black schools with buses.

Both Briggs’s parents lost their jobs after signing the petition for equal transportation in schools, and many other Clarendon parents joined the fight knowing they could lose their jobs, their land, or their lives.

“The courage that it took in 1947 to sign a lawsuit so that a bus could be provided for the children. Every time you see a school bus, every time you see that yellow bus, you need to think of the Pearson family,” said Julia Nelson, Mayor of Manning, SC.

The final sign stands in front of the Pearson family home where Rev. J. A. De Laine asked Levi Pearson to file an NAACP-backed lawsuit for equal transportation in schools. Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers represented Harry and Eliza Briggs, along with 19 other brave parents.

“We owe it to them to say ‘thank you’ for blazing the trail, for paving the way, for creating opportunity to each and every one of us,” said Representative Marvin Pendarvis of SC House District 133.

Lawmakers say there’s still much work to be done to make sure schools are truly equal in funding, but it’s a huge step to recognize the work done by the courageous Clarendon County parents many decades ago.

“It’s so amazing and overwhelming just to know that Papa’s historical marker is here on the homesite where it all started,” said Sandra Williams, granddaughter of Levi Pearson.

The Summerton Community Action Group hopes the historical markers will teach others about the history of Summerton while inspiring them to keep pressing forward toward equality and helping the next generation of students.

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