The main character in Dawn of Desegregation is Joseph Armstrong (J. A.) De Laine (2 July 1898 -– 3 August 1974). who was born in Clarendon County, South Carolina. He was the seventh of the thirteen children of his father’s second wife, the former Tisbia Gamble. Tisbia’s parents were the children of slave women and their owners.
His father was Henry Charles De Laine, a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and an entrepreneur. He was also a farmer who owned a relatively large tract of land. The De Laines are said to be descended from an unbroken line of free black men.
J. A. De Laine financed his own high school and college education. After the age of 14, he supported himself, paid for his own education, and helped his relatives financially. He earned the money to do these things by engaging in a variety of entrepreneurial endeavors that included teaching, preaching, carpentry, working as a laborer, and operating a small business.
In 1931, at the age of 33, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Allen University (Columbia, SC). Subsequent to his college graduation, he completed additional studies in agriculture at South Carolina State College.
In 1946, he earned the Bachelor of Divinity degree, also from Allen University. He was awarded honorary doctorates by Allen University and the University of Liberia.
In the mid-1920s, he began a lifelong career as an African Methodist Episcopal Church pastor, retiring from active ministry in 1972 at the age of 74.
Rev. De Laine began teaching in the 1920s, well before he graduated from college. He was already an elementary school principal when he received his BA degree in 1931. His career as a professional educator ended when he was fired in 1949 because of his work with parents in his home community.
In 1931, he married the former Mattie Belton of Columbia, SC, a teacher. Three children were born to their union.
As a social leader, Rev. De Laine played an important role in the genesis of the Briggs lawsuit (one of the five that ended public school segregation in the United States).
While living in the town of Summerton, SC, he recruited members of the community to sue for equal educational opportunities. This effort metamorphosed and culminated as the Briggs et al. v. Elliott et al. lawsuit that claimed legal segregation was an infringement of the 14th amendment.
Briggs was the first of the five cases that shared the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to reach the Supreme Court. This effort is the subject of Dawn of Desegregation.
Rev. De Laine suffered greatly because of his efforts to help his people enjoy the rights they were guaranteed by the United States Constitution. He was fired from his principal/teaching job, he was sued, his house was burned, his wife and sisters fired, his life threatened, his family harassed, his church burned and his home was the target of snipers.
He left South Carolina in 1955 after being informed that arrangements had been made for his murder on the night of October 10. He and his family were living in Lake City, SC, at the time.
Subsequently, Rev. De Laine pastored churches in New York State. In the western New York city of Buffalo, he founded DeLaine-Waring AME Church and served as that church’s pastor for about two years.
Subsequently he was transferred to Brooklyn New York where he pastored Calvary AME Church from 1959 until his retirement in 1972.
He and his wife moved to Charlotte, NC, where he died in 1974. In 2004, thirty years after his death, he was finally recognized with a United States Congressional Gold Medal, and was inducted into the Hall of Honor at the University of South Carolina Museum of Education.