Joseph A. De Laine Papers ca. 1918 – 2000
South Caroliniana Library, South Caroliniana Library
This core unit of three hundred fifty items-two hundred sixty-two manuscripts (letters, speeches, reports, narratives, and affidavits) and miscellaneous printed artifacts (news clippings, programs, booklets), and eighty-eight photographs-added to the papers of the late Joseph Armstrong De Laine (1898-1974) covers chiefly the period from 1942, when he submitted his annual report as secretary of the Clarendon County Citizen[s] Committee, to 1974, when he delivered an address entitled “History leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision outlawing Segregation in Public Schools.” The latter was a detailed summation of almost half a lifetime spent in pursuit of equal opportunity for African-American schoolchildren in Clarendon County and, by virtue of the wider application of the court cases which resulted from the efforts of this local teacher-principal and A.M.E. minister, across the nation. “It is a privilege undreamed of to relate some of the facts which I have been involved in leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision, which was handed down 20 years ago,” he declared in what would be the last year of his life. The various letters and documents here provide the evidence not only of DeLaine’s activities, but also of the trials and tribulations to which he was subjected as a result of his actions on behalf of equal rights. An early, succinct communication from Harold R. Boulware, 1 October 1947, is a portent of things to come. The Columbia attorney informs DeLaine that he is sending along a letter for [Levi] Pearson to sign and adds simply-“I am now processing the law in an effort to file suit in this case.” “This case” was the school bus transportation suit which became known as Pearson v. County Board of Education and would be filed on 16 March 1948. On 8 June it was thrown out of court because Pearson was found to have no legal standing: he lived in the wrong school district.
Key items-public letters, affidavits-relate to the actions of the Scott’s Branch Parents’ Committee, an organization of which De Laine was elected chairman in 1948 and through which he would press for change on their behalf. It was charged with bringing before the school authorities the complaints of high school students against the new principal, whom they accused of misappropriation of funds and neglect of duty. A two-page account of the meeting of 8 June 1949, written by the Rev. E.E. Richburg (pastor of the Liberty Hill A.M.E. Church), lists the grievances and reports-“in case we fail to get the proper results before the Trustee Board we will attempt to appeal to the County Board of Education and on to the State Board or where ever it is necessary.” Two days after the submission of these grievances to white school trustees of District 22, De Laine was advised that he would not be rehired as a teacher at Silver (in Clarendon County).
Here too is the letter, 23 September 1949, advising De Laine and the other members of this grievance committee of a hearing on the charges against I.S. Benson, the principal who was released from his job at Scott’s Branch on 1 October 1949. A note penned on a mimeographed copy of the letter sent on 9 July to the County Board of Education requesting a hearing on the charges against Benson reveals some of the subsequent events-“The Education Board sent to Spartanburg, about 200 miles, in January 1950 to file charges against De Laine [alleging] slander. The 5 white defendants in the Federal Court case became the prosecuting witnesses in the State court case against De Laine. They collected the insurance when [his] house was burned.”
De Laine nevertheless continued in his efforts to find twenty persons who were willing to attach their names to another case to be brought in Clarendon County by the NAACP, this time on behalf of completely equal treatment (buses, buildings, teachers’ salaries, teaching materials). By 11 November 1949 he had secured the twenty names required by NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall in order to proceed with litigation. On 14 November 1949 Eugene A.R. Montgomery, executive secretary of the South Carolina Conference of the NAACP, wrote De Laine from Columbia-“As you probably know by now the petition was mailed Saturday and I am certain that the members of the county and district boards received them today. We are going to wait 30 days for a reply then file for the case to be heard in Federal court.”
A one-page typewritten account entitled “Things that Happened since Nov. 11, 1949” lists the consequences for those members of the black community who signed the petition in the case which would become known as Briggs v. Elliott: loss of employment, foreclosed mortgages, denial of benefits. “The set up is to defeat all teachers from getting other work in the county,” the account concludes. “That started before the Petition. Wherever they have reports that a person is affiliated with the NAACP.”
A letter from J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, written to DeLaine at a Columbia address on 16 March 1950, came in response to one DeLaine had written him in which he thanked the director for having “searched my house, along with my sister’s for evidence on the enclosed threat [a phony death note “signed” by the “Ku Klux Klan” had been manufactured by DeLaine’s enemies and distributed in the black community with the message that it had been written by De Laine-a ruse by which his enemies had hoped to win a sympathetic jury on Benson’s behalf].
This exchange of letters constituted the beginning of the FBI files on De Laine which were maintained until 1973 and ultimately contained more than eighty items. Among them are the several letters that De Laine wrote to Hoover or the Bureau between 1950 and 1973 in which he reported incidents of intimidation, threats upon his life, and acts of destruction to his property. “I feel assured that these attacks are results of hate organizations being formed principally to intimidate Negroes who want integration,” he wrote on 31 August 1955 from Lake City.
Typed at the bottom of many of the FBI communications from the mid-1950s is a variation of the following note which appears beneath the signature of Hoover’s secretary in a letter to De Laine of 13 February 1956-“DeLaine is a controversial figure in racial segregation matters in South Carolina. On October 7, 1955, he received a letter telling him to leave Lake City, South Carolina, where he was minister in a church that burned down. Letter turned over to the Savannah Division by the Sheriff. On the night of October 10, 1955, De Laine fired a shot at an automobile parked near his house claiming the occupants fired at him first. A local assault warrant was issued for De Laine who fled the state and who is now in ‘protective custody’ of his bishop. He is fighting extradition. The Department has stated no Civil Rights or extortion violation exists. The Department also declined to authorize Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution process since De Laine’s whereabouts are known.”
Another note, beneath Hoover’s name on a telegram sent to the regional FBI office in Savannah on 6 August 1956 reveals-“De Laine pointed out [in a letter to the Bureau, 29 July 1956] he has always tried to inform Bureau of these matters even though nothing is ever done about it.” The note concludes-“In view of our previous dealings with DeLaine…it is not believed that his letter should be acknowledged by a letter from the Director since he might be able to use this to his own advantage at some later date.”
Among other significant communications in the FBI files on De Laine is a letter written to Hoover on 23 February 1952 by James McBride Dabbs of Mayesville, who claimed that De Laine, “as the local leader of the Negro group from which the [Briggs v. Elliott] litigants come,…has apparently suffered a series of persecutions and injustices, some of which may well be in violation of his civil rights.” He concluded by saying-“With the strong feeling engendered by the Clarendon County Case, there is little chance of local authorities making any move to see that Mr. De Laine gets the justice guaranteed any citizen.”
A typed account entitled “Confidential” relates the events of 7-11 October 1955, during which time De Laine received an ultimatum to leave Lake City or face death. Included in the collection is the death threat, which reads in part-“Several hundred of us have had a meeting and pledged ourselves to put you where you belong, if there is such a place….we have decided to give you 10 days to leave Lake City and if you are not away by then rather than let you spread your dirty filthy poison here any longer. We have made plans to move you if it takes dynimite to do it.” Present also is a copy of the warrant for De Laine’s arrest. After fleeing to New York in October 1955, in fear for his life after the Lake City incident, De Laine continued to be in touch with those who had borne the burden of the equalization litigation and been victimized in the process.
On 24 October 1955 William J. Hayes, identified on the letterhead of Lake City’s “Young Men[‘s] Civic Club” as its executive secretary, wrote to report to De Laine on conditions in the town after his departure-“Many like [episodes] followed the one on the night of your departure. Many more Negroes were grief stricken and frightened out their [wits]. We plan to hold our heads higher now than ever….We are with you and everything that you stand for….And like you, I stand ready to do as you have done, when I am visited. (Mark the car where the culprits ride.)”
Further correspondence during this period reveals an outpouring of concern for De Laine’s plight, which also brought invitations to him to speak to various church, civic, and governmental groups about his circumstances and what was happening back in South Carolina, principally concerning the economic boycott levied in Clarendon and Orange-burg counties against the petitioners in the school desegregation case. A letter from Manning funeral director Billie S. Fleming, 21 May 1956, reveals his offer to serve as contact man in the crisis, on condition that a system was worked out and that “justice is given to everyone”-“[I]f I am to have a part in this project, then I am going to work out a system whereby the petition signers will come first. No matter where their Church membership might be. Then will come the members of the NAACP. If a person does not need help, then he will not get it.”
A few months later, De Laine’s Summerton colleague the Rev. E.E. Rich-burg reported to him in Buffalo on events happening in South Carolina. In a letter of 15 October 1956 Richburg informed him that the case was “coming off on the 22nd of this month contesting the constitutionality of the law passed in our recent Legislation prohibiting the hiring of any one who is a member of the NAACP in State, County or Municipality.” He thanked DeLaine “for everything you have done in N.Y. City and for the interest you still have in our welfare,” referred to the enclosure of a check and a list of sixty-five names of Liberty Hill Church members who had contributed to the organization and founding of the De Laine-Waring AME Church in Buffalo, and concluded by stating-“God will make a way for you and your family for you have done no wrong, you have rendered an unselfish service to your community, County, state and nation.”
On 6 July 1956 former U.S. District Judge J. Waties Waring, in one of three letters he wrote to De Laine between 1953 and 1956, noted that “your group suggest naming your new Church ‘De Laine-Waring'” and re-marked-“I not only approve but am deeply moved at this honor, which however undeserved, I accept with thanks.” He went on to say-“Things continue rather dreadful in parts of the South but there is a great surge of courage and determination among our people as evidenced by the Montgomery Bus matter and other indications that we cannot and will not allow this nation to sink back into the mire of racial segregation. I fear it may take a long time in some of the worst sections, such as those from which we come, but the wheels of decency and progress cannot be stopped. It is up to us to see that they are speeded.” In an earlier letter, written on 12 March 1954, Waring had acknowledged-“You were not one of the plaintiffs in the Federal Court case but you were the Chairman of the Committee that started and carried on the fight commencing in 1949 by petitions to the school authorities.”
A number of items in the collection relate to the NAACP, both in South Carolina and beyond. Two letters written in 1952 from De Laine, in Lake City, to J.S. Boyd, Manning, president of the Clarendon County Branch of the NAACP, indicate some disharmony within the ranks of the area’s black leadership at the time. In a letter to Boyd of 23 July, De Laine told him-“Rebukes and impairing the feeling of your sincere co-workers will result in defeating our purpose and the organization that is thriving now, largely as a result of the suffering of many of us. The knocks of my enemies are not surprising but it is hurtful to be wounded in the house of your friend.” On 4 September he wrote Boyd-“The NAACP is too weak to be taking hearsay and fighting its own best characters. We can hear anything that a wicked heart and tongue is evil enough to say. We can wreck the cause for which we are working by the hearsay of a lying tongue.”
In a letter of 26 May 1957 Lighthouse and Informer editor John H. McCray, writing from Columbia, told De Laine that he had been in Clarendon County numerous times “the last few weeks” and that he was distressed and worried over the apparent neglect of the people there- “Right now they are like a group forsaken, yet determined to carry on and hold out.” “They demonstrate the great and lasting patience of our race; they are not complaining, though a bit weary of the long wait,” he went on to say. McCray identified what he believed was one reason for the delay-“a split in the local branch, something which has existed for over two years. The state headquarters has a lot to blame itself for in this case. I don’t blame those who have since refused to have anything to do with it.” “I am happy to note that you are still in the fight and firing away,” he concluded. “I also note you plan shifting to New York City. Well, my impression has been that up north the people do a lot of talking and a teeny weeny bit of work. They don’t know how priceless are the things we need and fight for down this way.”
Four years later De Laine was still concerned about claiming NAACP support for his friends and colleagues back home in Clarendon County in their struggle to survive the battle for equal rights. On 28 November 1961, in a letter to Roy Wilkins and the Board of Directors of the NAACP in New York, he confesses that he is “beginning to doubt and get bitter because of your neglect of the extreme CASUALTIES from the legal battles which have made the NAACP great.” “I am not now concerned about myself,” he declared, “but about Harry Briggs and family.” Seeking assistance from the NAACP for Briggs, who was then staying with the De Laines in Brooklyn, he goes on to state-“Harry and his wife are not seeking to be a burden on the welfare. They are not the GETTO type of people. They are not the criminal type. They are the type with dignity and self respect who are now displaced only because they agreed with the NAACP to help make opportunities for underprivileged children to become FIRST CLASS AMERICAN CITIZENS.” He observes-“I am aware of the great neglect of the VETERAN CASUALTIES, which through my influence came into the army of the NAACP.” Wilkins replied on 11 December 1961-“I will be very happy to have this office go further into the Harry Briggs case with you and to try to discover how we can be of some assistance.” And in a copy of a letter of 29 January 1962 Gloster B. Current, Director of Branches for the NAACP, discusses specific measures being taken to assist Briggs and his family, and concludes-“[T]he Association wants you to know that we deeply appreciate all that you have done to further our common cause and certainly we want to do everything possible to help you become satisfactorily adjusted in New York.”
On 12 March 1971, the Rev. F.C. James, pastor of the Mount Pisgah AME Church, Sumter, wrote De Laine on Long Island to say that he felt the time had come to lift the “unjust onus” of the 1955 Lake City fugitive warrant “from your person and name for all time.” “You, one of the truly outstand-ing sons of South Carolina,” he declared, “have been denied free access to your home state for many years too long.” James enclosed a copy of a letter he had written on DeLaine’s behalf to Governor John West. An official pardon from the South Carolina State Parole Board would not come until forty-five years after the drive-by shooting incident, when DeLaine, long deceased, was given his good name back in ceremonies held in Summerton on 10 October 2000.
Other items of interest in the collection include a 1933 request signed by twenty-three members of the “Voc. Agricultural Club” at the Macedonia School, Blackville, and sent to the district’s trustees asking “to be employ-ed for the painting and transplanting trees on the colored school grounds”; eight manuscripts, 1942-1949, consisting of letters and principals’ or teachers’ annual reports relating to the hiring and firing of teachers at the Liberty Hill School; a letter of 13 January 1956 from De Laine to Mrs. A.W. [Modjeska] Simkins in which he reveals his efforts to encourage people to deposit their money in the Victory Savings Bank “so that the Bank will be in better shape to lend to the Petitioners and other hard pressed folks”; and a campaign fund-raising letter sent out by Septima P. Clark, Charles-ton, 2 March 1971, as chairman of the finance committee for Victoria DeLee for Congress, with a note penned at the bottom-“I’m still working hard for the cause.” Twelve items, 1971-1976, document the critical role DeLaine played in writer-historian Richard Kluger’s research for his 1976 book Simple Justice.
Among the printed items in the collection are anniversary programs containing histories of the Greater Saint James A.M.E. Church in Lake City and of the De Laine-Waring A.M.E. Church in Buffalo, N.Y.; and funeral programs containing biographical sketches of such figures as Robert Weston Mance (1876-1930), Dr. E.H. McGill (d. 1939), the Rev. James W. Seals (1893-1973), Harry Briggs (1913-1986), and Eliza G. Briggs (1917-1998).
Photographs in the collection, in addition to those of DeLaine and his family, include portraits of Judge Waring, the Rev. E.E. Richburg, the Rev. J.W. Seals, and students at the Scott’s Branch School during the 1949-1950 term. Among the subjects of the group photographs are: the Allen University Class of 1925 (taken by Richard S. Roberts); a civil rights rally, ca. 1955, in which De Laine is shown sitting with Roy Wilkins, Eleanor Roosevelt, Autherine Lucy and Tallulah Bankhead; and the plaintiffs, workers and state NAACP officials involved in the Clarendon County school desegregation effort, 1951 (taken by E.C. Jones, Jr.). Also present are pictures of the Scott’s Branch School, the Macedonia High School campus, Pine Grove Church, the Rosenwald Building at the Barnwell County Training School, and the old school located at the Spring Hill A.M.E. Church.
The South Caroliniana Library
University of South Carolina
Brian Cuthrell of the South Caroliniana Library suggested this collection and allowed the Digital Activities Department access to it for scanning. This collection of papers of Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine was scanned on an HP 10000XL Scanner with Silverfast scan software. Deborah Green (MLIS 2007) scanned the images as color TIFFs at 24-bit and 300 ppi. From the TIFFs Deborah created high quality JPEGs and added the preservation metadata to the TIFF and JPEG images. The JPEGs were then uploaded to CONTENTdm. The TIFFs will be maintained as the archival masters on a SAN server, backed-up to DVD and tape. Tony Branch is the systems administrator for the CONTENTdm database and helps to manage the computers and scanners in the Digital Activities Department.
Santi Thompson (MLIS 2008) with assistance from Areli Keeney, created the metadata from the catalog records and uploaded them with the images from a tab-delimited file. The metadata records follow the Western States Best Practices Dublin Core format. Deborah created a home page for the collection.