SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, SC –
Our nation’s civil rights movement is made up of many people, many stories, and many struggles, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. credited and honored as being the fundamental force behind the movement.
His legacy is felt at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, where a state historical marker at the edge of Memorial Lake on the base is a testament to Dr. King and all those who fought for equal rights and social justice. However, Dr. King’s name is not listed on the marker. Instead, it reads “Randall v. Sumter School District.”
It started in the summer of 1963 for the Randall family, stationed at Shaw AFB, located in the city of Sumter. The nation had been watching events unfold between law enforcement and civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Randall family listened to President John F. Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address as he stated, “A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.”
But even as the president spoke those words, the momentum had already begun. It would swell into crowds that would march on Washington. It would result in one of the most iconic speeches in history, “I Have a Dream,” delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It would push through the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
That momentum would also motivate fathers.
Then-Maj. James Edward Preston Randall, a member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, a pilot who flew combat missions during the Korean (and later, Vietnam) conflict, and stationed at Shaw AFB, was frustrated about the education his children were receiving in the still-segregated schools.
On September 14, 1963, more than nine years after the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, the Randalls filed a federal suit to end school segregation in their district. They were joined by 13 other African American families also assigned to Shaw.
They became known as the “Shaw 14.”
Dr. Randall Owens, with U.S. Army Central’s Security Cooperation Division, studied Randall v. Sumter School District as part of his dissertation for his doctorate degree, and during his research got to know the Randall family.
His dissertation covered four other federal cases that took place in military communities in other states with segregated schools, but the Randall case was different, Owens said. “The other federal civil cases were put forth on behalf of military children by the U.S. Justice Department. The Randall case was the only one initiated by military members themselves. It demonstrated that there were real people and real lives involved in this struggle.”
Dr. Owens said that throughout his discussions with Col. Randall, “It was painfully obvious that Col. Randall loved the Republic. He emphasized the point that he fought for the country in Korea and Vietnam because he believed strongly in its promises and possibilities.”
On August 8, 1964, a U.S. District Court judge ruled for the plaintiffs. It was just over a month after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to Dr. Owens, the judge in the Randall case indicated the Act as influential in his ruling in favor of desegregation for military children in public schools.
The Randall children did not have a chance to attend a desegrated school in South Carolina, since the family made a permanent change of station move. However, in 2019, Shaw Air Force Base honored Col (Ret.) Randall and the 13 African American Airmen he led in the fight against local school segregation, with Randall attending via videoconference.
While the historical marker erected on Shaw does not mention Dr. King’s name, his influence, along with all the others who fought for equality and justice through two decades of the civil rights movement, directly influenced the fathers of the “Shaw 14.”