Former University of South Carolina law school associate dean Lewis Burke has written a book chronicling the early history of South Carolina’s African-American attorneys.
Burke said he started researching Reconstruction attorneys when a University of South Carolina student asked him who was the first African American to graduate from the law school.
“I continued to just research African-American lawyers and what happened to them after Reconstruction and I discovered that there were a lot more black lawyers than I ever expected in the 19th Century,” Burke said.
He said it took 10 years to research All for Civil Rights: Black Lawyers in South Carolina 1868-1968.
As a practicing attorney, Burke said he was inspired by Judge Harold Boulware. Boulware argued the 1954 Briggs vs. Elliot case, which was South Carolina’s portion of the Brown vs. Board of Education case that eventually ended school segregation. Burke’s first case as an attorney was in a courtroom where Boulware was serving as a judge.
“And Judge Boulware, on occasion, would tell stories about that case and his life as a civil rights lawyer,” Burke said. “I always admired him and he was very kind to me.”
Burke said the contributions of the 170 men and women featured in his book go beyond their years in the courtroom.
“I think their experiences and their careers, in many ways, mapped the struggle for Civil Rights, certainly the legal struggle for Civil Rights in South Carolina and the nation,” he said.
The University of South Carolina is believed to have been the first public law school in the country to have black students. “Then Allen University had a law school for a number of years. Claflin had a law school for a short time. Then later South Carolina State came on the scene in the late 1940’s,” he said. “South Carolina State produced the most significant lawyers in Civil Rights history.”
Burke said some of the individuals featured in the book spoke at his USC law classes prior to his retirement from the school.
Burke will give a lecture on information based on the book Wednesday as part of the 150th celebration of the University of South Carolina School of Law. The 5 p.m. presentation will be followed by a reception featuring the exhibit of graduate Richard Greener’s USC law diploma and license. The event is at the University of South Carolina School of Law. It is free but registration is required. Copies of the book will be for sale and Burke is available for signings.