Liberty Hill AME Church – Summerton, South Carolina
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Liberty Hill AME Church in Summerton was founded in 1867, five years after Emancipation and two years after the Civil War. The first church built on this site was constructed some time after Thomas and Margaret Briggs donated land for a church building, though the date is unclear. The current church – New Liberty Hill, as parishoners call it – was completed in 1905 as a wooden frame building; the brick veneer was added in the 1940s.
Also in the 1940s, people began meeting in this church to discuss desegregation. The meetings were led by Liberty Hill’s minster at the time, Reverend E.E. Richburg, and eventually led to the case of Briggs versus Elliott in 1952. That case began when Henry and Eliza Briggs of Summerton, along with more than 20 other plaintiffs, requested a working school bus for students in the black community. School superintendent R.M. Elliott denied the request, and the NAACP helped develop a suit that extended beyond transportation to include education.
The case was heard by the United States Supreme Court, who decided that Clarendon County needed to provide equal facilities for all students. Yet Thurgood Marshall – at the time a lawyer – argued that education for black students would remain inferior as long as students were separate. Thus Briggs versus Elliott became the first of five cases that would evolve into Brown versus Board of Education in 1954.
While the landmark case was a victory for desegregation, the pioneers from Liberty Hill AME Church were greatly persecuted by their neighbors as a result. All of the plaintiffs were fired from their jobs, and others’ homes were burned in retribution. Many of them, including Henry and Eliza Briggs, left the state. Today Liberty Hill remains an active AME church with a history rich in courage, suffering, victory, and faith.
Liberty Hill AME Church Info
Address: 2310 Liberty Hill Road, Summerton, SC 29148
Liberty Hill AME Church Map
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