Charleston: The Finer Details

“It’s about time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union.”

The finer details of Charleston's long history have filled many a book, so why
this blog? There are gems to be found in those many books, gems that have
been cut and polished for reading here. Humorous, sad, frightening, or littleknown,
these tales will, I hope, prove interesting to all who love Charleston.

We'll begin with the story behind 59 Meeting Street and its "dependency," which
later became a separate house, 61 Meeting Street. It is a story that takes us
from a time when slavery was the norm to the contentious era of the civil rights

number 59 meeting street

Nos. 59, 61 Meeting Street

Number 59 Meeting Street (page 30 in the guidebook) was built in 1750 by a local planter who acquired the property by marrying “an agreeable woman with a handsome fortune.” In the first U.S. census in 1790, eight white people were counted living in the house, attended by 35 slaves. Slaves were included in the population census to determine the number of congressional seats in the state. For purposes of apportionment, a slave was regarded as 3/5 of a person.

While doing research for his 1998 book, Slaves in the Family, Edward Ball lived here. He is a descendant of Elias Ball, who inherited part of a plantation and 20 slaves in 1698. Six generations, later the Ball family owned 20 rice plantations along the Cooper River. At the time of the war in 1861, the family owned nearly 4,000 slaves.

The smaller house next door, 61 Meeting Street, was built as a dependency of the “big house,” and served as its carriage house and slaves’ quarters. In 1942 the converted carriage house was occupied by a newly appointed federal judge and member of a prominent Charleston family, J. Waties Waring. Judge Waring stunned Charlestonians by issuing rulings from the Federal Courthouse – one block north – that favored wage parity between black and white schoolteachers, granted relief for black sharecroppers suing their employer, and ruled in favor of an African-American WWII veteran who had been blinded by a white police officer.

In 1945, after a 30-year marriage, Judge Waring divorced his wife, also a member of the Charleston elite, and married a twice-divorced Northerner, a move that further alienated Judge Waring from his already exasperated family and friends. Waring credited his new wife for increasing his “passion for justice.” In 1947 he allowed blacks to vote in primary elections for the first time since the 19th century, stating, “It’s about time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union.”In 1951 Judge Waring issued a vehement dissent in a school desegregation case, stating that segregation is “per se inequality.” (This occurred three years before the Supreme Court ended school segregation with their ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.)

A cross was burned in front of the house at 61 Meeting Street, and there were repeated instances of stones being thrown at the house. Facing increased hostility, Judge Waring went into self-imposed exile in New York City – in effect, moving to a more congenial, warmer climate up north. When he died in 1968, and his body was returned to Charleston for burial, over 200 blacks and fewer than 12 whites attended the funeral.

In 2015, former S.C. Governor and U.S. Senator Fritz Hollings (who, as a young lawyer, had practiced in Waring’s court) suggested that his name be taken off the Federal Courthouse and replaced with that of J. Waties Waring. Judge Waring’s statue can be found in the garden at the Federal, just up the street from his former house at 61 Meeting Street.

From prominence to infamy, ignominy, and exile, Judge Waring honored his passion for justice. His statue returned him to prominence. While some may still decry his rulings, they did much to advance civil rights in SC.

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