In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, South Carolina enforced the second-class citizenship of African Americans through segregation, residential, political, and social isolation – a rigid legal system known as Jim Crow laws.
The laws forced African Americans to attend separate schools, use separate water fountains, and separate bathrooms. A “poll tax” prevented people from voting, while literacy tests and the grandfather clause further prevented African Americans from voting. In Charleston, Jim Crow laws prevented African Americans from sitting along the Battery. In essence, the laws controlled and confined every part of African American life – and enforced white supremacy.
Though the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 theoretically ended Jim Crow, in 1965 ninety-five percent of South Carolina African American children still attended segregated schools. On September 3, 1963 in Charleston, in a landmark case, a federal judge cleared the way for then 15-year-old Millicent Brown and 10 other African American students (her fellow plaintiffs) to be admitted to a previously exclusively white institution: Rivers High School. Widespread desegregation of South Carolina public schools didn’t occur until the early 1970s.