Remembering Edwards vs. South Carolina, a case for equality

WACH Fox celebrates Black History with a look at a protest that took place 52 years ago that started at Zion Baptist Church. The protest turned into a case that made its way to the United States Supreme Court, forever changing history in Columbia and the Palmetto State.

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Congressman Jim Clyburn remembers the morning of March the 2nd 1961.

He and other students from across the Midlands including now South Carolina Chief Justice Jean Toal, willing to risk their lives for the sake of freedom. They all gathered here at Zion Baptist Church getting ready to make their voices heard.

â??South Carolina passed a new law called Breach of The Peace. We decided that we would come into Columbia to test that new law,â?? says Congressman Jim Clyburn (D) 6th Congressional District.

The Congressman saying the law among other things hindered African Americans to protest publicly about the unfair treatment and the affects of segregation that was felt throughout the South. The than 21 year old was just one of the students selected to help lead the march. They marched from the front steps of the church heading to the Statehouse. Within hours they were arrested spending days in jail.

â??We knew we were going to be arrested and we felt and said all I have to do is get my case to the United States Supreme Court because of the decision issued in 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Topeka Kansas. We just knew that we would be vindicated,â?? says Congressman Clyburn.

According to court documents 187 protestors were convicted of â??Breach of The Peaceâ??. Law enforcement officialâ??s testified that the protest started to attract the attention of hundreds of people which resulted in a traffic situation. Police then went to the leader of the group James Edwards and demanded the protest end but instead the protestors began to sing â??I Shall Not Be Moved" along with other religious songs all while shouting and clapping. This was dubbed inappropriate and was found to be a noisy demonstration.

â??We were challenging a system that needed to be challenged,â?? says Congressman Clyburn.

The group appealed to the United State Supreme Court with the help of Columbia native the late Judge Matthew Perry. The case now called Edwards vs. South Carolina went before the court in December of 1962.

A final decision was made in February 1963 based on the 1st and 14th amendment. The US Supreme Court found that South Carolina infringed upon the groups right to free speech and overturned their convictions.

But even through the arrests were cleared Congressman Clyburn says it's apart of who he is.

â??I will always wear those arrests as a badge of honorâ??, says Congressman Clyburn.

Dr. Bobby Donaldson is a professor of history at the University of South Carolina.

â??This case was a legal precedent. In many other communities across the south including Birmingham and Montgomery they were able to use that case to justify sit-ins and public protests without fear of being arrested,â?? says Dr. Donaldson.

An event in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Edwards vs. South Carolina decision is taking place Sunday March 3, 2013 at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center from 3pm-5pm. The event will include a roundtable discussion and an opportunity to meet those who took part in the march including James Edwards, the man the case was named after.