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The Rhetorical Road to Brown v. Board of Education - Elizabeth and Waties Waring's Campaign

The Rhetorical Road to Brown v. Board of Education

Elizabeth and Waties Waring's Campaign

By Wanda Little Fenimore
Series: Race, Rhetoric, and Media Series

Hardcover : 9781496843968, 260 pages, 12 b&w illustrations, April 2023
Paperback : 9781496843975, 260 pages, 12 b&w illustrations, April 2023

An illuminating look at the little-known rhetorical campaign that helped advance the cause of school desegregation


As early as 1947, Black parents in rural South Carolina began seeking equal educational opportunities for their children. After two unsuccessful lawsuits, these families directly challenged legally mandated segregation in public schools with a third lawsuit in 1950, which was eventually decided in Brown v. Board of Education.

Amidst the Black parents’ resistance, Elizabeth Avery Waring, a twice-divorced northern socialite, and her third husband, federal judge J. Waties Waring, launched a rhetorical campaign condemning white supremacy and segregation. In a series of speeches, the Warings exposed the incongruity between American democratic ideals and the reality for Black Americans in the Jim Crow South. They urged audiences to pressure elected representatives to force southern states to end legal segregation.

Wanda Little Fenimore employs innovative research methods to recover the Warings’ speeches that said the unsayable about white supremacy. When the couple poked at the contradiction between segregation and “all men are created equal,” white supremacists pushed back. As a result, the couple received both damning and congratulatory letters that reveal the terms upon which segregation was defended and the reasons those who opposed white supremacy remained silent.

Using rich archival materials, Fenimore crafts an engaging narrative that illustrates the rhetorical context from which Brown v. Board of Education arose and dispels the notion that the decision was inevitable. The first full-length account of the Warings’ rhetoric, this multilayered story of social progress traces the symbolic battle that provided a locus for change in the landmark Supreme Court decision.


"This book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Brown, the long civil rights movement, and the use of rhetoric to advance the cause of racial equality."

- David Frank, professor of rhetoric at University of Oregon

"The Rhetorical Road to 'Brown v. Board of Education' recovers important, yet forgotten, figures of the pre–civil rights movement. Using extensive archival research, Fenimore pulls back the curtain on the rhetorical campaign of Waties and Elizabeth Waring to end segregation."

- Theon Hill, associate professor of communication at Wheaton College