Since Reconstruction, African Americans in South Carolina have advocated for the full rights promised to them by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. In the face of Jim Crow segregation, they formed organizations to support one another while continuing to advocate for justice. In schools, churches, and civic groups, African Americans in South Carolina shaped the national struggle for civil rights.
The Civil Rights Movement changed South Carolina forever. African Americans challenged unequal segregated schools, pushing for full access to educational opportunities from primary school through higher education. They also worked to end segregation in public spaces, using mass demonstrations to challenge decades-long practices of white-only spaces. South Carolinians took these struggles to court, leading the way in a number of key cases in the United States Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which declared segregated schools unconstitutional, and Edwards v. South Carolina, (1963) which supported the rights of protesters.
African Americans in South Carolina advocated early and often for their right to vote, winning an end to segregated primaries well before national legislation made this change across the country. Civic groups worked tirelessly to register and get out the vote, pushing for African American political power in the state. As South Carolinians fought for an end to public segregation and voting rights, national groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Congress on Racial Equality and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference lent their support to activists in the state. African Americans won political rights and access to public places while also pushing for economic justice. From the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to the 1969 Charleston Hospital Workers Strike, South Carolinians advocated for full inclusion and equal treatment in every aspect of American public life.
While some white South Carolinians supported the African American struggle for equality, many more actively worked to maintain segregation and white supremacy in the state. The all-white state government passed legislation to uphold separate public education, criticized activists pushing for equality, and used police forces to stop demonstrations. White South Carolinians organized their own institutions to resist the end of segregation, including the creation of White Citizen’s Councils and a renewal of the Ku Klux Klan in the state. The tensions between those fighting for justice and those dedicated to resisting it sometimes turned violent, including the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre, when South Carolina Law Enforcement agents shot into a crowd of protesters in Orangeburg, killing three and injury many more. Nevertheless, African Americans continued to struggle for justice.
In the 1970s, South Carolinians elected African Americans to office in the state government for the first time since Reconstruction while citizens continued to work for justice for all.