In 1951, South Carolina passed its first general sales tax in order to fund a statewide program of school construction. Newly-elected governor James Byrnes developed a school construction and improvement package in response to Briggs v. Elliott, a lawsuit based in Clarendon County challenging the state’s constitutional “separate but equal” education provision. This “equalization” program was intended to construct new African American elementary and high schools across South Carolina to circumvent a potential desegregation ruling by the Supreme Court. The multi-million dollar school building campaign utilized modern school design, materials, and architecture to build new rural, urban, black, and white schools in communities throughout the state.
The schools constructed as part of South Carolina’s school equalization program represent the intersection of modern, national architectural trends and the postwar baby boom with South Carolina’s fight to maintain racially-segregated public schools. The state’s modern schools were funded by a three-cent sales tax designed to equalize black and white public schools.Nationally-recognized educational consultants worked with local and county school architects to design these new “equalization” schools based on postwar thinking about educational processes and architecture. The new design trends were applied to both black and white schools, resulting in materially equal school plants.
The equalization program, as part of the state’s strategy to prevent an adverse Supreme Court decision, attempted to improve and equalize schools for both black and white children. The General Assembly required school districts to consolidate smaller schools and districts, abolished all local boards of education with less than seven members, and required newly-created school districts to survey the building needs of their schools before receiving money from the state. The Educational Finance Commission (EFC) supervised these changes and reviewed applications for building funds. The stated goal of the commission was to oversee “the needs for new construction, new equipment, new transportation facilities, and such other improvements as are necessary to enable all children of South Carolina to have adequate and equal educational advances.”
By the end of 1955, the Educational Finance Commission believed that black schools were substantially equal to white schools. Every school district in the state had a black high school completed or under construction. As districts finished construction and improvement of black schools, the commission funded more white school construction projects. The Educational Finance Commission had approved over $214 million in building projects since the inception of the program, with 53.9 percent of the total funds appropriated for white schools and 46.1 percent of the funds appropriated for black schools. The state Department of Education assumed the roles and responsibilities of the Educational Finance Commission in 1966.
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