Greater St. James A.M.E. Church

In 1949, having served as an activist, school principal, and minister, Reverend Joseph Armstrong DeLaine (1898-1974) organized African American parents in Summerton to petition the school board to provide a bus for Black students. In 1950, some of these parents including Harry and Eliza Briggs, sued Clarendon County schools to end school segregation. Reverend J.A. DeLaine played a significant role in the monumental Civil Rights Case, Briggs v. Elliott, which sought desegregation of Clarendon County schools and was one of five cases commonly known as the Brown v. Board of Education cases. In 1950, Reverend J.A. DeLaine would be transferred from Pine Grove A.M.E. Church in Summerton to St. James. In October 1951, white supremacists burned DeLaine’s Summerton home and unknown persons would burn the St. James church in October 1955. In 1954, the Supreme Court would rule that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, but desegregation would take place at “all deliberate speed.” In Lake City, it would not be until the late 1960s when public schools would become integrated both for students and faculty. The St. James congregation would eventually build a new church, Greater St. James A.M.E. in 1957.

The Greater St. James A.M.E. church was founded in 1883 by Reverend Hill and twenty-five charter members. The congregation built its first church at the corner of Lake and North Church Streets in 1885. It was later renovated and enlarged in 1917 and a steeple was added in 1948-50.[1]

In 1949, having served as an activist, minister, and school principal, Reverend Joseph Armstrong DeLaine (1898-1974) organized African American parents in Summerton to petition the school board to provide a bus for Black students, who had to walk up to 10 miles through corn and cotton fields to attend a segregated school, all while white students could ride to and from school on buses. In 1950, some of these parents including Harry and Eliza Briggs, sued Clarendon County schools to end school segregation. Reverend J.A. DeLaine played a significant role in the monumental Civil Rights Case, Briggs v. Elliott, which sought desegregation of Clarendon County schools and was one of five cases commonly known as the Brown v. Board of Educationcases. These other cases included Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (KS), Davis V. Board of Education of Prince Edward County (VA), Bolling v. Sharpe (D.C.) and Gebhart v. Ethel (DE).

Civil Rights lawyer and activist, Thurgood Marshall, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund handled these cases as they went to the Supreme Court. Most of these cases wanted to reverse the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ruling that stated quote “separate but equal was constitutional,” end quote. They also wanted to declare segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. Unable to come to a solution by June 1953, the Court decided to rehear the case in December of that year. After the case was reheard in 1953, Chief Justice Earl Warren was able to bring all of the Justices to agree in supporting an unanimous decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional. On May 14, 1954, he delivered the opinion of the Court, stating that “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. . .” Expecting opposition to its ruling, the Supreme Court asked the attorney generals of all states with laws permitting segregation in their public schools to submit plans for how to proceed with desegregation. Desegregation was to proceed with “all deliberate speed” which led to years before all segregated school systems were desegregated.

In 1950, Reverend J.A. DeLaine would be transferred from Pine Grove A.M.E. Church in Summerton to St. James. In October 1951, white supremacists burned DeLaine’s Summerton home and unknown persons would burn the St. James church in October 1955. Rev. G. Lee Baylor was the pastor of the congregation when a new sanctuary, named Greater St. James, was erected in 1957. In Lake City, it would not be until the late 1960s when public schools would become integrated both for students and faculty.

[1] http://www.greaterstjames.org/historyofstjames.htm

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