Forced to leave his native state, he later wrote the FBI that he fled South Carolina, “Not to escape justice, but to escape injustice.”
Clergyman, civil rights activist. DeLaine was born on July 2, 1898, near Manning, one of thirteen children born to Henry Charles DeLaine and Tisbia Gamble. He was raised primarily in the Manning area but spent some time in the nearby Summerton community while his father pastored the Liberty Hill AME Church. After completing high school in Manning, DeLaine attended Allen University in Columbia, earning tuition money by working as a laborer. Completing his A.B. degree in 1931, DeLaine entered Allen University’s Dickerson Seminary to pursue a bachelor of divinity degree. He preached as opportunities arose and worked for his brothers in various construction trades. Also during 1931 DeLaine was called to pastor Stover’s Chapel in Columbia. There he met a dynamic young woman named Mattie Belton. They were married on November 12, 1931, forming a union of shared beliefs, commitments, and activism. The couple had three children.
After graduation and a series of teaching and pastoral positions, DeLaine accepted an appointment from the AME Church as pastor of the Spring Hill Church in Clarendon County. He assumed a teacher’s position at Bob Johnson School near Davis Station between Manning and Summerton. Mattie DeLaine became a teacher at the Spring Hill Community School.
During his tenure at Bob Johnson School, the lack of buses and the terrible school facilities began to weigh heavily on DeLaine. He knew that black students were at a tremendous disadvantage in their learning environment. These feelings led to the first case challenging the lack of school buses for African American children, filed on March 16, 1948, in federal court. After the case was dismissed on a technicality, DeLaine, with the encouragement of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and its chief legal counsel, Thurgood Marshall, persuaded twenty Clarendon County parents to sign a new lawsuit requesting equal educational facilities. That suit, Briggs v. Elliott, challenged the constitutionality of segregation and was heard in arguments before a federal district court in Charleston in May 1951. Not surprisingly, a three-judge panel decided two-to-one against the defendants (Judge J. Waties Waring cast the dissenting vote). However, the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was one of the five cases constituting the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision on May 17, 1954, which marked the beginning of the end of legal segregation in American public schools and society.
For his actions, DeLaine became the target of a series of hate crimes. He and his wife lost their jobs, and white merchants cut off their credit. The AME Church transferred DeLaine to Lake City early in 1951, and his home in Summerton was destroyed by fire the following October. After a series of night-rider attacks on their Lake City home, DeLaine responded in kind with gunfire on October 10, 1955. After the incident, a warrant for “Assault and Battery with Intent to Kill” was issued against DeLaine. Forced to leave his native state, he later wrote the FBI that he fled South Carolina, “Not to escape justice, but to escape injustice.” The warrant remained in effect for the remainder of DeLaine’s life and was not dropped until October 10, 2000. Never able to return to South Carolina, DeLaine lived the remainder of his life in New York and North Carolina. He died on August 3, 1974, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
DeLaine, Joseph A. Papers. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.
DuBose, Sonny. The Road to Brown: The Leadership of a Soldier of the Cross, Reverend J. A. DeLaine. Orangeburg, S.C.: Williams, 2002.
Egerton, John. Speak Now against the Day: The Generation before the Civil Rights Movement in the South. New York: Knopf, 1994.
Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality. New York: Knopf, 1975.
Lochbaum, Julia Magruder. “The Word Made Flesh: The Desegregation Leadership of the Rev. J. A. DeLaine.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1993.