Averyites in the Civil Rights Movement

Protesters on King Street during the Charleston Movement, Charleston, South Carolina, ca. 1960s, courtesy of the Avery Research Center.

Protesters on King Street for the Charleston Movement, Charleston, South Carolina, ca. 1960s, courtesy of the Avery Research Center.

Although Avery closed in 1954, the influence of its students and faculty in the South Carolina Lowcountry region persisted, particularly during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Many Averyites emerged from this institution to become prominent advocates for progressive change in Charleston and beyond. The following sections highlight some of the Averyites who were advocates for civil rights locally, in South Carolina, and across the nation.

NAACP Leadership: J. Aurthur Brown, Avery Class of 1932
NAACP Leaders (left to right) Arthur D. Greene, Roy Wilkins, and J. Arthur Brown, ca. 1950s and 60s, J. Arthur Brown Collection, courtesy of the Avery Research Center.

NAACP Leaders (left to right) Arthur D. Greene, Roy Wilkins, and J. Arthur Brown, ca. 1950s and 60s, J. Arthur Brown Collection, courtesy of the Avery Research Center.

J. Arthur Brown served as president of the Charleston Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1953 to 1959. Under his leadership, the organization focused on challenging racial inequalities in public accommodations and schools throughout the city. From 1960 to 1965, Brown served as president of the South Carolina Conference of the NAACP. From equalizing teacher salaries to desegregation, the NAACP led by Brown played a central role in civil rights organizing for Charleston and throughout South Carolina.

For example, despite the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation was unconstitutional, it took years for public schools on the state and local level to effectively comply. In South Carolina, school desegregation did not begin until 1963, when Judge Robert Martin ruled in Millicent Brown et al. v. Charleston County School Board, District 20 to approve requests from eleven Black students to be admitted to white schools. Brown spearheaded this groundbreaking school desegregation case, and his daughters Minerva and later Millicent served as the lead plaintiffs on the case. 

First Children of Integration in Charleston School District #20, 1963, Charleston, South Carolina, Isaiah DeQuincey Newman Papers, courtesy of the South Carolina Political Collections, University of South Carolina.

First Children of Integration in Charleston School District #20, 1963, Charleston, South Carolina, Isaiah DeQuincey Newman Papers, courtesy of the South Carolina Political Collections, University of South Carolina. In 1959, Averyite J. Arthur Brown filed a lawsuit to allow his daughter, Minerva, to attend an all-White high school in Charleston. After four years, Judge Robert Martin ruled in favor of integration in the case Millicent Brown et al v. Charleston County School Board, District 20, legally ending school segregation in Charleston. Brown’s younger daughter, Millcent, was one of the eleven Black students to first integrate the city’s school system. Students pictured from left to right, standing: Clarence Alexander, Barbara Ford, Jacqueline Ford, Ralph Stoney Dawson, Millicent Brown, and Clarice Hines. Seated, left to right: Cassandra Alexander, Gerald Alexander, Gail Ford, and Oveta Glover. Not pictured: Valerie Wright. 

 

Also in the 1960s, Brown worked with local leaders to organize the Charleston Movement. Through peaceful protests, members of Charleston's Black communities distributed flyers and boycotted and picketed stores, restaurants, and theaters that did not serve or hire African Americans. Police arrested over a thousand protestors during this movement, but Charleston's segregated white businesses eventually responded by opening their doors to African Americans.