November 16, 1898: Carrie Williams Case Tried in Supreme Court of Appeals

J. R. Clifford

On November 16, 1898, the case of Carrie Williams versus The Board of Education of Fairfax District, Tucker County, was tried before the West Virginia Supreme Court.

To save money, the Tucker County Board of Education had reduced the school term of black schools from eight months to five months. A black teacher from Tucker, Carrie Williams, consulted with J. R. Clifford—West Virginia’s first licensed black lawyer. On his advice, she continued teaching for the entire eight months.

When the Tucker County school board refused to pay Williams for her additional three months of teaching, Clifford took the case to the state Supreme Court, which found in Williams’s favor. It was one of the first cases in U.S. history to rule an aspect of school discrimination illegal.

Two years earlier, in 1896, Clifford had unsuccessfully challenged Morgan County’s segregation policies. In that instance, a black family had appealed to send their children to a white school since no black schools existed in Morgan County. Segregation continued in West Virginia schools until after the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown versus the Board of Education.