Liberty Hill AME Church – Summerton, South Carolina
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Liberty Hill AME Church in Summerton was founded in 1867, four 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 parishioners call it – was completed in 1905 as a wooden frame building; the brick veneer was added in the 1940s.
Around this time, people began meeting here to discuss desegregation. The meetings were led by Liberty Hill’s then-minster, the Reverend E.E. Richburg, and eventually became the landmark case, Briggs versus Elliott. The case began when Henry and Eliza Briggs of Summerton, along with more than 20 other plaintiffs organized by local black minister and teacher Joseph Albert DeLaine, 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.
In 1950 Briggs versus Elliott was filed in Clarendon County. Thurgood Marshall – at the time a lawyer for the NAACP – argued that education for black students would remain inferior as long as students were segregated. In 1951 the three-judge panel ruled against the plaintiffs, with only Federal District Judge Julius Waties Waring dissenting. In his dissent, Judge Waring wrote that separate but equal laws were “per se inequality.” The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, and Briggs versus Elliott was one of five cases that together became Brown versus Board of Education in 1952. A victory was handed to the plaintiffs on May 17, 1954.
While Briggs versus Elliott ultimately was a win 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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