Book Review: Dawn of Desegregation: J.A. De Laine and Briggs v. Elliott

Ophelia De Laine Gona, Dawn of Desegregation: J.A. De Laine and Briggs v. Elliott.  The University of South Carolina Press, 2011.  ($29.95, hardcover, ISBN 978-1-57003-980-5, 216 pages).

Dawn of Desegregation offers a unique account of Briggs v. Elliott, the first of the five combined cases that eventually became the landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education.  Authored by the daughter of Reverend J.A. De Laine, civil rights activist and the principle focus of the book, Dawn of Desegregation attempts to explain “how and why Briggs happened.” [1]  It details the Briggs case from the beginning and follows its development from a simple request to the local school board for access to busing for black students, to a demand for equal educational facilities, and then finally ends with the evolution of the case into a call for complete school desegregation.  In addition to presenting the legal aspects of the case, like recruiting suitable plaintiffs, seeking legal counsel, and shifts in the NAACP litigation strategy, the book also offers insight into the personal aspects of the case, often relating the dangers faced by the plaintiffs participating in the case and its effect on their day-to-day lives. 

Interesting and easy to read, Dawn of Desegregation is a good addition for most academic and public libraries.  It could easily be used as recommended reading for classes in history, civil rights, education, or law or for public patrons with interests in those subjects.  The book is logically organized into chapters representing chronological periods of time, which follow the progress of the Briggs case.  In addition to the text of the book, several photographs from personal collections are also included, which depict the conditions of the separate schools used by black and white students in South Carolina.  There is also an index and a notes and sources section at the end of the book to aid the reader.  However, despite its overall appeal, this book is less likely to be useful for a county or firm law library, where patrons most often need access to materials that speak to current, as opposed to historical, legal issues.

For those patrons who plan on using Dawn of Desegregation as part of their research, it should be noted that the book should be used with caution when citing it as a historical reference.  In the Preface, the author details the limitations of the book’s sources.  The author is careful to point out that the book is an “approximation of what actually happened”[2] and notes that she has “not documented most references.”[3]  In order to recount the development of the Briggs case, the author relied primarily on her own recollections of events and those of her brothers, the memories of some of the surviving Briggs plaintiffs, and her father’s letters, legal documents, and newspapers.[4]  As mentioned above there is a brief notes and sources section at the end of the book, which sites to general sources used throughout the book and to sources used in specific chapters.  However, no footnotes or other notation are used in the book to reference sources with specific quotes or passages, which will make it very difficult for researchers to verify the source of the information they wish to cite. 

Reviewed by Shannon Kemen, reference librarian at the Robert S. Marx Law Library, University of Cincinnati College of Law.

[1] Ophelia De Laine Gona, Dawn of Desegregation: J.A. De Laine and Briggs v. Elliott x (2011).

[2] See Id.

[3] See Id. at xi.

[4] See Id. at x.

1 Response to “Book Review: Dawn of Desegregation: J.A. De Laine and Briggs v. Elliott”

  1. 1 o gona June 29, 2011 at 10:37 am

    I am pleased the reviewer found my book, Dawn of Desegregation, interesting and easy to read. There are, however, two extremely crucial comments that must be made. The first concerns the major sources of information. As I stated in the Preface, “my father left published materials and extensive personal records… Along with oral histories, these records were the sources of practically all of my information.” In the Acknowledgments, there is the statement, “Reconstruction of the incidents and their chronology relied heavily on details and, many times, words drawn from the papers” of Rev. De Laine (published in the AME Christian Recorder, 1966-1972). It cannot be too strongly emphasized that I did not say I relied on my own recollections. In fact, I personally only recall a few of the described events, and even those memories are exceedingly incomplete. My second comment is a cautionary one. Any history written after the fact has, by its nature, to be an approximation of what actually happened. All the components of a past event, or sometimes actual dialog, can never be recaptured. As I indicated in the Acknowledgements, “Great care has been taken to ensure the highest possible level of accuracy in recounting the events of this fascinating saga.” While precise documentation has not been referenced, the serious researcher can readily find almost all of the written documents as cited in Notes and Sources.

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June 2011

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