Social harmony

By ERNEST F. HOLLINGS, former U. S. senator


SEPT. 9, 2015 -- Fareed Zakaria on CNN (8/3015) said that in preparing to speak in Singapore that he asked the country's Deputy Prime Minister what he regarded as the country's biggest success. Zakaria thought the response would be Singapore's strong economy but instead the Deputy Prime Minister cited Singapore's "social harmony". The Minister said: "Over 80 percent of Singaporeans live in public housing…When you ensure every neighborhood is mixed, people do everyday things together…and most importantly their kids go to the same schools. When the kids grow up together, they begin to share a future together." Then, I noted in the Post and Courier (8/31/15) that a public housing facility was purchased by private developers. The United States does the opposite of Singapore to obtain "social harmony".

The 1954 Supreme Court decision in the Kansas case of Brown vs. The Board of Education reversed the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of "separate but equal". The Court required public schools to integrate with "deliberate speed". Kansas's secondary schools were already integrated and Kansas primary grades were segregated. The lead case on segregation was Briggs vs. Elliott in Summerton, South Carolina. The Briggs case was tried by Thurgood Marshall for the NAACP and Robert Figg for South Carolina. I had introduced the 3 percent sales tax for the equalization of teachers' pay, transportation and school buildings in South Carolina. I knew nothing about the case, but Governor Byrnes wanted to make sure that any question for "separate but equal" could be answered. He sent me along with Figg to help with the arguments before the Court. Having served on the Supreme Court, Governor Byrnes knew that John W. Davis was the best before the Court and he selected Davis to make S.C.'s arguments before the Court.

Figg and I were eating breakfast in the DC Train Station when Thurgood Marshall joined us for breakfast. Marshall and Figg had toiled through months in the Briggs Case and had become close friends. Marshall was telling of integration problems in Illinois and turned to Figg asking: "Suppose I win? How long do you think it will take to integrate the public schools in South Carolina?" Figg paused, mopping his brown, and responded: "It will take longer than you think, Thurgood. It will take all of twenty five years." Marshall responded: "You're wrong. It will take fifty years." Now sixty years later, Scotts Branch School in Summerton is still substantially segregated.

After the Brown Decision, the lawyers for both sides of the case got together and agreed that the best way to integrate the schools with "deliberate speed" was to integrate the first grade the first year; the first and second grade the next year and eleven or twelve years later public schools would be integrated. The children growing up together would "share a future together". But an official for the NAACP in New York, cried: "We're not to be given our rights on the installment plan." Now, civil rights, integration and immigration are still the number one problem in the United States.

The lawyers were right. Over the years, the United States has become one big Singapore with immigration, civil rights and integration, one big problem. If we could make public housing an infrastructure priority, like the Interstate Highway System, instead of closing public housing facilities, the United States could begin to enjoy "social harmony."

Senator Fritz Hollings of South Carolina served 38 years in the United States Senate, and for many years was Chairman of the Commerce, Space, Science & Transportation Committee. He is the author of Making Government Work (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

© 2015, Ernest F. Hollings. All rights reserved. Contact us for republication permission.

About Fritz Hollings

Ernest F. Hollings served the public for 56 years -- 38 years in the United States Senate and as South Carolina's governor, lieutenant governor and a member of the S.C. House of Representatives. Today, Hollings continues to be influential in public affairs and offers this website as a compendium of current and past positions on public issues. Learn more about Fritz Hollings.

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