Civil Rights

Ethel Louise Belton Brown

Ethel Louise Belton Brown, also known as Ethel Louise Belton, was a civil rights activist and educator. She played a significant role in the fight against racial segregation in schools in South Carolina. Ethel Louise Belton Brown was born on October 27, 1919, in Charleston, South Carolina. She became involved in civil rights activism in the 1940s and 1950s when she joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Charleston. Brown became a plaintiff in the Briggs v. Elliott case, one of the five cases that were later consolidated into the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.

Ethel Louise Belton with her daughter, Brigitte at five years old

The Briggs v. Elliott case challenged the constitutionality of racial segregation in South Carolina public schools. Ethel Louise Belton Brown and her husband, Harry Briggs, Sr., were among the parents who filed a lawsuit in 1949 on behalf of their son, Harry Briggs, Jr. after he was denied admission to a white school closer to their home. Their case sought equal educational opportunities for African American students.

Although the Briggs v. Elliott case was ultimately absorbed into the Brown v. Board of Education case, it played a crucial role in highlighting the issue of racial segregation in schools. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 declared that segregated schools were inherently unequal and unconstitutional.

From left, Linda Brown Smith, Harry Briggs Jr., Ethel Louise Belton Brown, and Spottswood Bolling Jr. at a news conference in 1964. Mr. Briggs’s parents originated the lawsuit that put an end to public school segregation.

Ethel Louise Belton Brown’s activism and bravery in challenging segregation helped pave the way for the desegregation of schools in South Carolina and across the United States. Her efforts contributed to the dismantling of the legal framework that upheld racial segregation, leading to greater educational opportunities for generations of African American students.

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