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Ruby Pendergrass Cornwell papers

Identifier: AMN 1039

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).


  • Creation: 1944-2003
  • Creation: 1944-1974
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1950-1969


Language of Materials

Material is in English

Access Restrictions

No restrictions.

Copyright Notice

The nature of the Avery Research Center's archival holdings means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine despite reasonable efforts. The Avery Research Center claims only physical ownership of most archival materials.

The materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, pursuant to U.S. copyright law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source.

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.


1.75 linear feet (4 archival boxes)


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.

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

Related Material

Judge J. Waties and Elizabeth Waring Papers (AMN 1033)

Processing Information

Processed by Georgette Mayo, 2012

Edited by Aaron Spelbring, February 2014

Inventory of the Ruby Pendergrass Cornwell Papers, 1944 - 2003
Processed by: Georgette Mayo; machine-readable finding aid created by: Aaron Spelbring
© 2014
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • February 2014: Edited by Aaron Spelbring

Repository Details

Part of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture Repository

125 Bull Street
Charleston South Carolina 29424 United States