CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking Friday in the city where the Civil War began, said the first federal judge to write an opinion challenging the doctrine of separate but equal decades after it was the law of the land "was morally right and historically gutsy."
Holder joined hundreds of people — judges, lawyers, politicians and citizens both black and white — to dedicate a statue of U.S. District Judge Waties Waring on the grounds of the courthouse where Waring rendered his historic decisions.
His opinions in cases ranging from opening the South Carolina Democratic primary to blacks, to equal pay for teachers and school desegregation made the white judge a pariah in his hometown in the Jim Crow South. He received death threats, a cross was burned in his yard, stones thrown through the windows of his house just down the street and lawmakers tried to have him impeached.
Waring's 1951 dissent in a Clarendon County, S.C., case was largely followed by the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark Brown vs. Board of Education outlawing segregated public schools in a ruling that involved several cases from around the country.
"Judge Waring decisively advanced the cause of equal rights. He challenged systems of inferiority and oppression. And in so doing, he brought our nation closer to its highest ideals," Holder told a crowd of more than 700 gathered in a tree-shaded garden to one side of the courthouse.
The courthouse was built the same year as the Supreme Court's 1896 decision in Plessey vs. Ferguson establishing separate but equal in race relations as the law of the land.
Earlier, Holder told reporters he spoke with President Obama about Waring and his role in American history.
"We were both talking about how difficult it was to have to be essentially run out of town for doing something that was morally right and historically gutsy," Holder said. "He's a great man - a great man and the recognition he gets today is well deserved but too long in coming."
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, holding the gavel Waring used when he heard cases, said his opinions changed the nation.