J. Waties Waring was born in South Carolina in 1880. He graduated from the University of Charleston with a Bachelor’s degree in 1900 and passed the bar exam in 1901. He had a legal career in private practice and then served for years as the city attorney for the City of Charleston.
President Roosevelt nominated him for a judgeship in the Eastern District of South Carolina. He later became the Chief Judge. His career on the bench was notable in extraordinary ways. He ended segregated seating in the courtroom. He appointed an African American as his bailiff.
When an African American veteran was beaten and blinded, Judge Waring was shocked by the federal government as well as the racist behavior of the defense attorney. This was the first of a number of cases when Judge Waring opened up the court.
Other cases that Judge Waring ruled upon included:
- Mandatory pay for equally qualified teachers regardless of race.
- Mandating access to a legal education for African Americans.
- Opening up primary election candidacy to African Americans.
Perhaps the greatest judicial legacy that Judge Waring left was in a case that eventually led to the Brown vs. Board of Education. When a case was presented to him challenging that local schools were not separate but equal, he suggested that the plaintiffs challenge segregation itself. While the case was lost in the Appellate Court, it did make it to the Supreme Court where it was consolidated with other cases leading to the desegregation of schools.
Judge Waring was attacked by Charleston society. The KKK burned a cross in his lawn and rocks were tossed through his windows. He and his wife decided to move to New York City. When Judge Waring died at the age of 87, a memorial service was held in Charleston. African Americans showed up in great numbers to honor him, but only a few white persons came. Today the judicial center in Charleston is named in his honor.
Hidden heroes are often ahead of their time and must have the courage to endure the abuse they receive for their convictions. Think of the differences that Judge Waring made through his conviction that all Americans should be treated fairly.
* * *
“It takes but one person, one moment, one conviction to start a ripple of change.” – Dorothy Thompson