When author Brian Hicks came across the story of Judge Julius Waties Waring – whom he calls the most unlikely civil rights hero in history – he knew it had to be told.
“Waring changed the country,” says Hicks, a journalist based in Charleston, South Carolina. “Everybody has heard of Brown vs. Board of Education, and to think it started with this one man, the son of a family of slave owners, was an intriguing plot to me.”
In his tenth book, In Darkest South Carolina, released this month, Hicks tells the story of Charleston in the 1940s and Waring, an eighth-generation Charlestonian and the son of a Confederate veteran who was appointed to the bench in the early days of World War II. At 61 years old, he finally became a judge and immediately changed history by ordering the South Carolina Democratic Party to allow African Americans to vote in its primary.
This critical decision put Waring on the firing lines – he was threatened by, among others, the Ku Klux Klan, but he pushed on to continue changing laws to protect civil rights. Hicks came across Waring’s story about 15 years ago and pitched it to book publishers, but no one bit until 2016.
“There are many echoes of yesterday in what's happening now in this divide in the country,” says Hicks. “Back then it was segregation, now it's illegal immigration. Many people are saying the exact same racist things that were said back then.”
Hicks describes his book as a cross between two timeless southern classics. “It's about the segregated South and one man trying to make a difference, like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and it’s also set in this very strange, odd, southern town like in ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’,” he explains. “It’s a very dark book, but the most uplifting thing about it is that a very small group of people can make a monumental difference in an entire country, if they try.”
Waring ultimately heard the case that prompted President Truman to begin his civil rights commission, which was one of the early moves of the civil rights era. “That was a case where a black soldier coming from World War II was pulled off a bus and beaten,” he says. “The case went to Waring's courtroom, and it took the jury just a minute to acquit this guy, even with eyewitness testimony. That's the case that turned both Truman and Waring towards civil rights.”
The title of the book comes from a quote by Waring. “He said this to a group of people in Charleston in 1950 when Congress was trying to impeach him,” explains Hicks. “They were burning crosses in front of his house. The White House sent armed guards to protect him and he had 24-hour security. He told this group of people who'd come to his house to honor him, “We don't live in darkest Africa, we live in darkest South Carolina.”
The Post and Courier launches In Darkest South Carolina with a luncheon on September 18 that will also honor the achievements of Judge J. Waties Waring. Special guests include former Chief Justice Jean Toal and Mayor Joe Riley. Purchase a copy of the book today at evepostbooks.com/product/pre-order-in-darkest-south-carolina-by-brian-hicks