Inventory of the Ruby Pendergrass Cornwell Papers, 1944 - 2003

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Descriptive Summary

Abstract: Ruby P. Cornwell, a native of Foreston, SC, earned a B.A. from Talladega in 1925 and taught English for many years. In Charleston she was active in Plymouth Congregational Church and served on the boards of several organizations, including the Charleston Branch of the NAACP. Through her work with the NAACP she developed close ties to U.S. District Judge Julius Waites Waring and his wife, Elizabeth. Judge Waring presided over several noted civil rights cases-ruling for integration and equal status. Mrs. Waring was known as an outspoken advocate for integration.
Contains personal correspondence, including that from Mrs. Waring, as well as a variety of programs, articles, and newspaper clippings. Also, contains court documents, speeches, and a great deal of information that pertains to the Warings.
Title: Ruby Pendergrass Cornwell Papers, 1944 - 2003
Creator: Cornwell, Ruby Pendergrass.
Call Number: AMN 1039
Repository: Avery Research Center
Bulk Dates: 1950-1969
Inclusive Dates: 1944-1974
Language of Material: Material in English
Extent: 1.75 Linear feet
(4 archival boxes)

Biographical Note

Ruby Madelene Pendergrass Cornwell (1902-2003), an educator and civil rights activist, was born in Foreston, SC. She was the oldest child of Maud Beulah Chavis Pendergrass a teacher, and DuRant Percival Pendergrass a Methodist minister. She attended Avery Normal Institute, Charleston, SC, Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School (presently Bethune-Cookman College), in Florida, Talladega College in Alabama, and studied vocal performance in New York. Returning to Charleston in 1929, she married Aylwood T. Cornwell, a dentist. During her teaching career, Cornwell taught English and History at Avery and Laing High School. She administrated the first Head Start program in Charleston County, the St. Matthew Head Start Program, from 1966-1977. Considered one of Charleston’s pioneer civil rights activists, Cornwell was arrested for civil disobedience in 1963 for attempting to desegregate the Fort Sumter Hotel’s restaurant. She has served on many local boards of directors, including the NAACP, the Charleston Council of Christians and Jews and the Avery Institute of African-American History and Culture.

At Plymouth Congregational Church, she served as the choir director and as a member of the Trustee Board. In addition to the various boards and committees, she was also a member of the Board of the Charleston Branch of the NAACP. It was through her association with the NAACP that she developed close ties with United States District Judge Julius Waites Waring and his northern wife Elizabeth. It was stated that Cornwell was perhaps the Warings’ closest friend during their controversial last years in South Carolina.

During his tenure on the bench, Judge Waring ended racial designation on juror list and other traditionally accepted discriminatory practices within his court. He ruled in favor of equal pay for black and white public school teachers; and in his most controversial rulings, struck down rules of the South Carolina Democratic party limiting membership and participation in the party’s primaries to white voters only. He also encouraged Walter White, Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP officials and counsel to make a direct assault on the “separate but equal” doctrine in the public schools. Elizabeth Waring was even more outspoken, condemning the decadence of white southerners, applauding the moral superiority of African Americans and advocating total integration.

Cornwell was instrumental in the development of the Piccolo Spoleto and Moja Arts Festival and earned the designation of Board Member Emeritus of the South Carolina Art Association (the Gibbes Art Museum). She was on the Steering Committee of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority for their first Charm School and Debutante Ball, and a member of the Charleston SC Chapter of LINKS, Inc. As a member of Circular Congregational Church, Cornwell sang solos for many benefit concerts for churches and community organizations. Cornwell was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree by the College of Charleston in 1997. Other honors include being named to the Black Hall of Fame, the YWCA Twin Woman Award, and the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Award for Community Service. Cornwell died in 2003.

Collection Overview

This collection is divided into five series consisting of Biographical Papers, Correspondence with the Warings, Additional Waring Documents, General Correspondence, and Visual Materials and General Materials. The first series contains a small amount of Biographical documents regarding Cornwell. The majority of the collection reflects Cornwell’s close friendship with Elizabeth and Judge J. Waites Waring, a U.S. District Judge from Charleston (1942-1952), who designated segregation of public facilities unconstitutional.

The second series consists of Correspondence from Judge Waites Waring and Elizabeth Waring, mostly authored by Elizabeth Waring, relating their life in Charleston and New York. The couple also sent Cornwell carbon copies of their public approval letters and correspondence to public officials regarding their stance on civil rights. The Waring’s correspondence reflects their extensive social connections with influential African Americans and Whites involved in Civil Rights, politicians and the performing arts, along with fellow judges and writers. The letters are arranged chronologically from 1950-1963, the bulk 1950-57. Topics include the Briggs v. Elliott Clarendon County school case, (eventually incorporated into the Brown vs. the Board of Education court cases); white supremacists; gradualism; school segregation; race relations; communism; American Civil Liberties Union; the Madison Square Garden Civil Rights Rally (1956); Republicans and the “Negro Vote;” the Highlander Folk School; the Charleston organizations of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters; and personal matters. The clippings are included with sent letters unless otherwise noted on finding aid.

The third series holds Additional Waring Documents including certified copies of judgment and dissenting opinion filed by Judge Waring in the Briggs v. Elliott case (1951) which upheld “separate but equal” segregation in Clarendon County, SC schools; typescripts of speeches including Waring’s talk to a naturalization class (1951); student Francis Sturcken’s oratorical contest entry entitled, “The Liquid South,” regarding challenging the College of Charleston’s segregation policy (1951); and typescripts by Dr. Kenneth Clark and Marion A. Wright regarding integration (1955).

Series four contains General Correspondence to Cornwell, including letters from Hubert T. Delany from the NY Court of Domestic Relations and Miriam DeCosta (1951) regarding misunderstandings from Elizabeth Waring; correspondence with South African writer, Alan Paton (1954-56) regarding his Charleston visit, which was subsequently written about in Collier’s magazine, with mention of the Cornwells; and letters from Zilphia Horton co-founder of Highlander Folk Center (1954); writer Dorothy Sterling regarding Cornwell’s writing assignment (1964); and from Judge Waring’s daughter, Anne Waring Warren, regarding the Waring’s funerals and family updates (1968-75).

The final series of Visual Materials and General Documents holds several group black and white photographs (c. 1957) of Cornwell with unidentified friends; scattered programs and invitations; and memorabilia from tour of Europe (1967).

Collection Arrangement

1. Biographical Papers, 1954-2003

2. Correspondence from Judge Waites Waring and Elizabeth Waring, 1950-19673

3. Additional Waring Documents, 1944-1969

4. General Correspondence, 1950-1974

5. Visual Materials and General Documents, 1945-1967

Subject Headings

  • African Americans--Civil rights--South Carolina.
  • Waring, Julius Waties, 1880-1968
  • Cornwell, Ruby Pendergrass, 1902-2003
  • African Americans--Civil rights.
  • Discrimination in education--South Carolina.
  • Race discrimination -- South Carolina -- Charleston -- History.
  • Segregation -- South Carolina -- Charleston.
  • South Carolina -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century.

Related Material

Judge J. Waties and Elizabeth Waring Papers [AMN 1033]

Detailed Description of the Collection

1. Biographical Papers, 1954-2003.

Box 1   Folder 1
Biographical Papers, 1954-2003
Biographical sketches, photocopied newspaper articles programs regarding birthday celebrations and obsequies (1954-2003) regarding Ruby Pendergrass Cornwell.

2. Correspondence from Judge Waites Waring and Elizabeth Waring, 1950-1967.

(26.0 Folders)
Box 1   Folder 2
Waring Letters, 1950
Letters to Cornwell sent in 1950. Topics include National Brotherhood Week; Eleanor Roosevelt on prejudice; letter with advertisement and photocopied newspaper clippings regarding Judge Waring talk to Council for Civic Unity regarding white supremacy and prejudice in Deep South; Miriam DeCosta; NAACP leader, Walter White; and the KKK
Box 1   Folder 3
Waring Letters, 1950
Waring's carbon copied correspondence with others sent to Cornwell (1950) includes public approval letters in response to Elizabeth's interview on Meet the Press. Includes letter of support from James Folsom, Governor of Alabama
Box 1   Folder 4
Waring Letters, 1950
Newspaper and magazine clippings (1950) include Collier's article, "The Lonesomest Man in Town" regarding the Waring's social ostracism in Charleston; and articles regarding the Warings' and attacks on their Charleston home.
Box 1   Folder 5
Waring Letters, 1951
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings (1951). Topics include Elizabeth Waring defending Collier's magazine article; her perception of Southern racial attitudes resulting from segregation; expressing skepticism of people fighting for "Negro Rights," and opposition of "segregation profiteers;" carbon copied letter to Julia A. Gourdine stating reasons for declining invitation to speak at Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Charleston; Arthur. J. Clement, Jr.; Septima Clark, Miriam DeCosta; Rev. Frank and Maude Veal; John McCray and his work with The Lighthouse and Informer newspapers
Box 1   Folder 6
Waring Letters, 1951
Waring's correspondence (originals and carbon copied) sent to Cornwell (1951) includes Elizabeth's letter to editor of Christian Science Monitor clarifying her point of view and tactics in challenging civil rights; Judge's correspondence with S. Ralph Harlow of Smith College with Waring questioning intentions of Senator Olin Johnston; Carl Rowan's impression of Charleston and the Warings; Aubrey Williams of the Southern Farmer expressing support for Briggs vs. Elliott case; and Elizabeth questioning John Hammond re his elimination from NAACP board
Box 1   Folder 7
Waring Letters, 1951
Newspaper and magazine clippings (1951) includes journalist Carl T. Rowan's syndicated series, " How Far from Slavery?;" regarding his observations of Southern race relations in the South; coverage on Clarendon County case and resistance movements to school integration
Box 1   Folder 8
Waring Letters, 1952
Waring's letters to Cornwell (1952). Topics include the Waring's relocation to New York, the Democratic Party; Mordecai Johnson; Carl Rowan; Fair Employment Practice Committee [F.E.P.C.]; Irma and Arthur J. Clements; and the NAACP
Box 1   Folder 9
Waring Letters, 1952
Photocopied newspaper and magazine clippings sent (1952) include articles regarding Waring's relocation to NYC; Judge Waring's stance on the Civil Rights Issue and reexamination of Clarendon County school case; and President Truman's address regarding civil rights.
Box 1   Folder 10
Waring Letters, 1953
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from January to June 1953. Topics include the possibility of Charleston postal service intercepting letters to Cornwell and others; comments on book, Living Without Hate; opinions on Charleston's News and Courier newspaper, Charlestonian Blacks reluctant to support civil rights, Communist "witch hunts;" and segregation; details on attending Negro Debutante Ball in NYC and Ralph Bunche's dinner party; attorney Marion A. Wright, "gradualism" and "Southern for Civil Rights" meeting; Southern Regional Council; Highlander Folk School; Elizabeth contacting Rozella Switzer featured in Time Magazine for befriending Nigerians attending school in Kansas; and Maude Veal working with the Charleston League of Women Voters.
Box 1   Folder 12
Waring Letters, 1953
Warings correspondence with others and sent to Cornwell (1953) includes letter from Marion Wright regarding the impending abolishment of segregation despite gradualist efforts and Governor James Byrnes attitude regarding segregation; and letter to the Ford Foundation commending them for sponsoring radio shows discussing South Africa's segregation and East Harlem inferior housing for Blacks.
Box 1   Folder 11
Waring Letters, 1953
Letters from July to October 1953. Topics include Supreme Court delay on segregation cases; demeaning portrayals of Blacks in the performing arts; Arthur J. Clement, the Charleston N.A.A.C.P. and possible screening for Communist infiltration; McCarthyism; Septima Clark; meeting with psychologist Kenneth Clark and Reverend James H. Robinson, author of Road Without Turning.
Box 1   Folder 13
Waring Letters, 1954
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from January to July 1954. Topics include Supreme Court Clarendon case with Chief Justice Earl Warren, attorney John William Davis and Dr. Kenneth Clark in attendance; Elizabeth expressing desire to write their autobiographies and to be buried in Charleston's Magnolia Cemetery; having dinner with Kenneth and Mamie Clark; Roy Wilkins and N.A.A.C.P.; Ralph Bunche; Thurgood Marshall; the Urban League; visiting Arthur Garfield Hays; Judge's meeting with [William] Averell Harriman to assist in N.A.A.C.P. fundraising efforts to implement the Supreme Court decision; opinions regarding Marion Wright as president of the Southern Regional Council; John McCray's Lighthouse article regarding Modjeska Simpkins; discussing Alan Paton articles in The Crisis and Colliers and scheduling lectures; celebrating the Supreme Court decision re Brown vs. the Board of Education [17 May]; personal comments regarding John Hammond featured in a New Yorker magazine article.
Box 1   Folder 14
Waring Letters, 1954
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from August to December 1954. Topics include thoughts on meeting author [Jay] Sauders Redding; anticipation re Charleston NAACP testimonial dinner held in the Waring's honor; author Emily Kimbrough; Marion Anderson performing at the Metropolitan Opera House; journalist [William] Hodding Carter [II]; requesting John Hammond to Charleston NAACP testimonial; Alan Paton's article in Collier's ["The Negro in America Today"]; hosting party for Jay Saunders Redding with newspaper clipping listing guests; thoughts on NAACP testimonial and John McCray; writing letters in attempts to meet Eartha Kitt; entertaining Judge Jane Bolin; and mentions of Thurgood Marshall and Kenneth Clark. Also, includes program from forum "Progress of Freedom in the United States," [18 Oct 1954] with Elizabeth's written comments regarding presenters.
Box 1   Folder 15
Waring Letters, 1954
Newspaper clippings (1954) include the South's desegregation plan and NAACP testimonial dinner.
Box 2   Folder 1
Waring Letters, 1955
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from January to July 1955. Topics include Cornwell assisting Joseph Arthur Brown with Charleston NAACP; the passing of Walter White; attending publisher Max Schuster's party, meeting General E.L.M. Burns his involvement in the "Gaza Situation," and political columnist William S. White; comments on Alan Paton and Marion Wright regarding their lack of interaction with Blacks, requesting Cornwell and Septima Clark to join the Southern Regional Council; celebrating ten year wedding anniversary with Jane Bolin and other influential attorneys; involvement with American Civil Liberties Union [A.C.L.U.]; comments regarding Charleston NAACP improvements. Newspaper and magazine clippings topics include public school desegregation, Black leadership in the South.
Box 2   Folder 2
Waring Letters, 1955
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from August to December 1955. Topics include Septima Clark and her affiliation with the Highlander Folk School; concern over Hurricanes Connie and Diane; meeting with Carl Rowan; discussing Kenneth Clark's book, Prejudice and Your Child; thoughts on Emmett Till's murder; failed attempts in contacting Joseph Arthur Brown; Elizabeth accusing Cornwell and Clark of supporting weak Negro leadership; and Judge Waring's telephone conversations with Rev. Joseph DeLaine. Newspaper clippings topics include the burning of Rev. J.A. Delaine's Lake City church from South Carolina Independent newspaper; Alan Paton.
Box 2   Folder 3
Waring Letters, 1956
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from January to May 1956. Topics include conversations with Alan Paton; praising Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.; talking to Roy Wilkins about Charleston; Autherine Lucy's case regarding admission to Alabama University; comments on attending League for Industrial Democracy conference honoring A. Philip Randolph was honored; Waring's dismay regarding apathy in the Charleston's Black community; concern regarding Septima Clark; Elizabeth's health problems; meeting playwright Noel Coward; comments on attending Madison Square Garden Civil Rights Rally; and working with Poppy Cannon White as co-chairman to the Walter White Annual for Courage.
Box 2   Folder 4
Waring Letters, 1956
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from June to December 1956. Topics include Septima Clark dismissal from Charleston County School District; talking to Ralph Bunche; visit from Maude Veal discussing her husband's assignment as Allen University's President; Septima Clark working on John's Island for the Highlander Folk School; supporting Roy Wilkins work with the N.A.A.C.P; Thurgood Marshall; meeting with Marion Wright; attending Ralph Bunche daughter's wedding reception; telephone request from Benjamin Mays; discusses journalist Jimmy Hicks [James L.] contract with C.B. Powell and Philip Savory of The Amsterdam News; supporting Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.; Poppy Cannon White's book regarding husband Walter; opinions re presidential election [Eisenhower vs. Stevenson, II] with concern regarding "Negro Vote" and praising Martin Luther King, Jr. Newspaper and magazine clippings topics include Alabama's Bus Boycott by Martin Luther King, Jr.; Republicans and the Negro Vote; comments on Poppy Cannon's book regarding Walter White.
Box 2   Folder 5
Waring Letters, 1957
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from January to July 1957. Topics include comments regarding The Amsterdam News with articles written by Hicks; Septima Clark in Knoxville, TN with Highlander; thoughts on newscaster Mike Wallace; involvement with League for Mutual Aid; growing concerns over Elizabeth's health; opinion regarding evangelist Billy Graham; thoughts on "communism conspiracy"; opinion on Rufus Clement regarding Negro Rights; meeting with Ralph Bunche.
Box 2   Folder 6
Waring Letters, 1957
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from Aug to Dec 1957. Topics include comments on W.E.B. DuBois; Maude Veal; Kenneth Clark; imploring Cornwell to accept invitation from the Southern Regional Council.
Box 3   Folder 1
Waring Letters, 1958
Scattered letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from January to December 1958. Topics include comments questioning Cornwell's loyalties regarding Negro Rights; Maude Veal's position with NY Youth Board with newspaper clippings; impressions of Jackie Robinson's stance on Negro Rights; comments regarding attending Rabbi [Israel] Goldstein's Seder-Passover dinner; thoughts on attempted homicide attack on Martin Luther King with newspaper clipping. Other clippings include Thomas McFall appointed on SC Commission on Civil Rights; Art Buchwald column from NY Herald Tribune regarding Harry Belafonte stance on civil rights.
Box 3   Folder 2
Waring Letters, 1959
Scattered letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from January to November 1959. Topics include Judge Waring leading panel discussion regarding discrimination in sports featuring Jackie Robinson with clipping; attending Utility Club's honoring author Sarah Patton Boyle, with Elizabeth's comments written on program; commending Cornwell on her protégé, Bruce Poinsette; visit from Septima Clark; comments regarding Jimmy [James] Byrnes' appearance on Person to Person television show; and concern regarding Septima Clark's involvement in Highlander raid.
Box 3   Folder 3
Waring Letters, 1960
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from January to August 1960. Topics include updates on Alan Paton; congratulating Cornwell on her participation with the Charleston student sit-ins; comments regarding Septima Clark being honored by Utility Club; comments regarding controversy created by daughter, Anne Waring Warren's articles regarding Charleston and the South; and opinions on Eleanor Roosevelt. Newspaper clippings include Judge Waring donating his papers to Howard University; Maude Veal's letter to the editor regarding membership in the Charleston's League of Women Voters.
Box 3   Folder 4
Waring Letters, 1960
Letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from September to December 1960. Topics include imploring Cornwell to write her memoirs regarding their friendship and their struggle for "Negro Rights" in Charleston; expressing discontent towards Septima Clark in her refusal to acknowledge Charleston in speeches and writings; news about civil rights activist Patty [Sarah Patton] Boyle writing a book [eventually titled The Desegregated Heart: A Virginian's Stand in Time of Transition]; inquiring about Charleston's library integration. Newspaper clippings include editorial regarding problems of city schools.
Box 3   Folder 5
Waring Letters, 1961-1964
Scattered letters with photocopied newspaper clippings from May to November 1961 and June 1962. Includes Judge's copy of letter sent to Rev. Benjamin Glover, Emanuel A.M.E. Church, declining invitation to Charleston and reiterating the need for SC Blacks to develop courage in the fight for civil rights; Septima Clark working with Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta; book 58 Lonely Men: Southern Federal Judges and School Desegregation, featuring Judge Waring; Septima Clark work with Martin Luther King, Jr. Contains news clippings regarding objection to News and Courier editor Thomas R. Waring receiving an honorary degree from Sewanee the University of the South; Judge Waring living in exile (1963); and editorial tribute to Judge (1964).
Box 3   Folder 6
Waring Letters, 1957-1967, nd
Greeting cards and miscellaneous thank you notes from the Warings (1957-1967, nd)

3. Additional Waring Documents, 1944-1969.

Box 3   Folder 7
Waring Documents, 1951, 1964
Box 3   Folder 8
Waring Documents, 1951, 1955
Box 3   Folder 9
Waring Documents, 1950-1956
Box 3   Folder 10
Additional Waring Documents, 1944-1969

4. General Correspondence, 1950-1974.

Box 3   Folder 11
Correspondence, 1950-1953
Personal letters to Cornwell (1950-53) from Arthur J. Clement (1950), Hubert T. Delany, NY Court of Domestic Relations regarding dispute with Elizabeth Waring (1951); Miriam DeCosta regarding misunderstanding with Mrs. Waring and her experience of integrating Westover School, CT (1951) .
Box 3   Folder 12
Correspondence, 1954-1956
Letters (1954-56) from artist Elton C. Fax and others regarding Alan Paton's article, "The Negro in America," in Collier's magazine with mention of Cornwell; Cornwell's correspondence with the Patons, with one letter describing the Waring's NAACP testimonial dinner in detail; and thank you letters from Zilphia Horton, co-founder of Highlander Folk Center, with Center's credo and television personality, John Charles Daly.
Box 4   Folder 1
Correspondence, 1964-1974
Letters (1964-1974) from writer Dorothy Sterling regarding the Waring's health and Cornwell's writing assignment (1964) and request for white teachers who "teach black" for potential book (1969); correspondence re Cornwell's European trip from family and government officials with request to visit Danish day care centers (1967); letters from Judge Waring's daughter, Anne Warren, regarding his funeral with newspaper clipping (1968) and family updates (1971-74).

5. Visual Materials and General Documents, 1945-1967.

Box 4   Folder 2
Visual Materials, 1957
Black and white photographs (c. 1957) of Cornwell and unidentified friends.
Box 4   Folder 3
General Documents, 1945
Programs and invitation from various organizations includes Avery Institute commencement (1945) and LINKS of Charleston
Box 4   Folder 4
General Documents, 1967
Miscellaneous tickets and listing of tour members from Cornwell's European trip (1967).
Box 4   Folder 5
General Documents, undated
Note book and loose reference notes by Cornwell and miscellaneous pamphlets regarding segregation and books.

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Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Ruby Pendergrass Cornwell Papers, Avery Research Center, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, USA.

Processing Information

Processed by Georgette Mayo, 2012

Edited by Aaron Spelbring, February 2014