Plessy v. Ferguson
Ferguson is one of the most important Supreme Courtcases, in which the Court held
that racial segregationis constitutional under the
“Separate but Equal” Doctrine. Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote the
Court’s opinion, which was voted on 7 to 1.
The Jim Crow laws claimed a
“separate but equal” quality for black Americans, but in actuality,
blacks were treated unfairly and unequally. Public places, such as schools,
restrooms, and methods of transportation, were kept segregated by “whites
only” and “blacks only” sections. Although the Thirteenth
Amendment abolished slavery, many people, especially Southerners, believed that
former slaves were still not considered citizens, and therefore, not guaranteed
all the same legal rights as whites.
In 1890, the State of Louisiana
passed a law that required blacks to use separate railway cars that were
supposedly equal to those of whites. A group of African Americans in New
Orleans formed an association called The Citizens’ Committee to Test the
Separate Car Act. This group hired a well-known attorney, Albion Tourgee, and
staged an act of civil disobedience where Homer Plessy agreed to violate the
Separate Cars Act and be arrested.
The Committee carefully staged
the event. Homer Plessy was a light skinned individual who was of African
ancestry. Plessy purchased a railroad ticket for a “whites only” car
and was then arrested when he announced on the train car that he was one-eighth
black and refused to move to the black car.
The Supreme Court also upheld
the ruling that entitled the State of Louisiana to engage in racial
segregation. The Court did not find that the State had violated the Fourteenth
Amendment and was not technically treating the races differently, but just
keeping them separate. However, in reality, most of the public places that were
designed for blacks were greatly inferior to those designed for whites. Plessy
was forced to plead guilty to the violation and pay a minor fine and the public
facilities remained separated.
The Plessy v. Ferguson decision
began affecting public institutions immediately. Funding for educational
institutions was far less for African Americans. States that had initially not
participated in racial segregation began passing this legislation, and much of
the progress made during Reconstruction was reversed. The Separate but Equal
law stood until it was finally reversed in 1954 in the Brown v. Board of