(1951–1966). In 1951 the South Carolina General Assembly created the South Carolina School Committee at the request of state senator L. Marion Gressette of Calhoun County. Following the filing of the Briggs v. Elliot case, which challenged the “separate but equal” policy in South Carolina’s public schools, the General Assembly created the committee to prepare for, and hopefully thwart, the possibility of federally mandated desegregation. The committee consisted of five members from each house of the General Assembly, five at-large members selected by the governor, with Gressette (for whom the committee came to be known) as chairman.
The Gressette Committee remained dormant until 1954, when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation was unconstitutional. Gressette made the committee’s position on desegregation clear when he declared, “We shall recommend to the Governor and General Assembly continued resistance by every lawful means.” All proposals regarding school segregation passed through the committee. The Gressette Committee fought to maintain public school segregation through the use of legislative proposals and legal stall tactics, such as abolishing the compulsory attendance law, denying state aid to schools forced by court order to integrate, and eliminating the automatic rehiring of public school teachers.
Though the committee opposed desegregation and slowed its pace in South Carolina, it advocated nonviolent resistance to change and actually became a vehicle for accommodation by stopping many proposed segregation laws from being debated in the General Assembly. Looking back on the work of the committee, Gressette declared “the committee’s real accomplishment was in preventing violence such as occurred in some other southern states.” In 1966, on receiving heavy criticism from legislators over legal expenditures and on the conclusion of most legal questions regarding segregation, Gressette called for an end to the committee and the legislature complied.
Sproat, John G. “‘Firm Flexibility’: Perspectives on Desegregation in South Carolina.” In New Perspectives on Race and Slavery in America: Essays in Honor of Kenneth M. Stampp, edited by Robert H. Abzug and Stephen E. Maizlish. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.