This month, we are taking a look back at some of the landmark legal cases originating out of South Carolina. Earlier this month, we looked back at Briggs v. Elliott, one of the cases combined into what became known as Brown v. Board of Education.
Today, we are going to look at Edwards v. South Carolina. This case arose out of an organized march to the South Carolina State House grounds by 187 African-American high school and college students on March 2, 1961. The group assembled peacefully at Zion Baptist Church in Columbia and marched in groups of fifteen to the South Carolina State House, where they peacefully expressed their grievances regarding civil rights. Police told them to disperse or face arrest; when they chose not to disperse, instead singing religious and patriotic songs, the protesters were arrested for and later convicted of the common law crime of breach of the peace.
The Supreme Court eventually held in an 8-1 decision that arresting and convicting the petitioners was an infringement of the petitioner’s rights of free speech, free assembly and freedom to petition for a redress of grievances, all rights guaranteed by the Firth Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by the States. Justice Stewart wrote that the marchers’ actions were a clear example of First Amendment rights in “their most pristine and classic form,” and that states cannot make “the peaceful expression of unpopular views” criminal.
Image credit: The State newspaper, http://www.thestate.com/2013/02/27/2650678/capitol-march-cemented-constitutional.html