Date of Award

5-2010

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

History

Advisor

Grisinger, Joanna

Committee Member

Taylor-Shockley , Megan

Committee Member

Bartley , Abel

Abstract

This project studies public school desegregation in Beaufort County, South Carolina, from 1954-1973. Beaufort County is a community that historians have overlooked in the narrative of southern school desegregation. Just like other southern communities, Beaufort County's school desegregation story must be studied from multiple angles and across time. By focusing on a rural county on the coast of South Carolina, this project asks how school desegregation occurred in areas outside of the `visible South.' Within this narrative, this project approaches Beaufort County's school desegregation from two historiographical angles--one top-down and the other bottom-up. The first explores how federal mandates and the need for federal funds for schools affected desegregation in the community. The second deals with how the community's character, demographics, and spatial geography influenced both the way desegregation took place structurally and the success of desegregation efforts within the school walls.
This project first provides background information about Beaufort County's history and geography and an overview of school desegregation in the South during the 1950s-1970s. It then addresses the major phases of school desegregation in Beaufort County: a phase of inaction from 1954-64, 'Freedom of Choice' from 1964-1970, and 'Full Integration' which began in 1970. This project illuminates two aspects of both the 'Freedom of Choice' and 'Full Integration' phases in Beaufort County: 1) the steps school district officials took to ensure compliance with federal mandates and the community's reaction to the compliance process and 2) how students and teachers experienced school desegregation.
The history of school desegregation in Beaufort, off the beaten path in the 1950s-1970s in terms of its history and its geography, highlights the common themes in southern school desegregation. These include: initial resistance to limited desegregation, the use of states' rights rhetoric to oppose school desegregation, and stark contrasts between 'Freedom of Choice' and 'Full Integration' in terms of the racial identities of schools and the presence of white flight. Yet studying Beaufort County also illuminates aspects of school desegregation that historians should consider further, such as role of federal funding and Department of Health, Education, and Welfare mandates on school desegregation.

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