July 17, 1947 – The U.S. District Court in South Carolina Opened the All-White Primary to Blacks

Julius Waties Waring was a white native of Charleston, South Carolina born in 1880, whose father and uncles had been slaveowners and Confederate war veterans. But somehow along the way, Waring got radicalized, and, as Wil Haygood wrote in Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America, “He began expressing different views from what Charlestonians expected of him.” He even went so far as to allow blacks to sit wherever they wanted in his courtroom. He ruled against whites in court who committed crimes against blacks. He married a northerner, which in itself would have subjected him to censure. But most unforgivably, Judge Waring opened the all-white Democratic Primary in South Carolina to blacks with his ruling in Elmore v. Rice, 72 F. Supp. 516 (E.D.S.C. 1947).

Judge J. Waties Waring

Judge J. Waties Waring

The plaintiff, George Elmore, was a black man who brought suit because he was not permitted to vote in the Democratic Party’s primary election. It was the contention of the defendants that:

. . . the State having thus completely renounced control of political parties and primaries held thereunder, these party primaries are private matters, subject to the determinations and whims of its members, and that they may include or exclude members as they desire, according to racial or any other tests.”

But Waring reasoned (citing statistical evidence) that in Georgia, the Democratic Party is “the dominant and controlling political party.” Voting in the primary was for all intents and purposes equivalent to voting in a “general election.” So can the Democratic Party, he asked, actually be treated as a private organization?

Waring concluded:

I am of the opinion that the present Democratic Party in South Carolina is acting for and on behalf of the people of South Carolina; and that the Primary held by it is the only practical place where one can express a choice in selecting federal and other officials. Racial distinctions cannot exist in the machinery that selects the officers and lawmakers of the United States; and all citizens of this State and Country are entitled to cast a free and untrammeled ballot in our elections, and if the only material and realistic elections are clothed with the name “primary”, they are equally entitled to vote there.

It is time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union. It is time to fall in step with the other states and to adopt the American way of conducting elections.”

In time, his apostasy became dangerous for him. The Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on his front lawn. He received threatening phone calls. Congressman Mendel Rivers of South Carolina was among those calling for Waring’s impeachment, predicting, “Unless he is removed, there will be bloodshed.”

Judge Waties Waring and his wife, Elizabeth, became close friends with Charleston NAACP leader Arthur J. Clement and his wife.

Judge Waties Waring and his wife, Elizabeth, became close friends with Charleston NAACP leader Arthur J. Clement and his wife.

Judge Waring retired in 1952 and he and his wife moved to New York, where they were more welcome.

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