Plessy v. Ferguson
After the Civil War in America, during Reconstruction, the United States government provided the newly emancipated people with protection for civil rights. However, when Reconstruction ended and troops were no longer stationed in the south - caused by the Compromise of 1877, southern state governments enforced "Jim Crow Laws." The Supreme Court ruled the Jim Crow Laws unconstitutional - and the state of Louisiana passed and endorsed Act111, which made it mandatory for separate accommodations for African Americans, such as railcars for whites and blacks. Uncertain of how effective the act would be, African Americans decided to band together and form the Citizens' Committee to test the Separate Car Act, whose goal was to challenge the act and hopefully get it repealed. Homer Adolph Plessy, a man who was seven-eighths Caucasian, chose to take a seat in the "white" railcar of a trail. After he boarded, in act of premeditated disobedience, he announced his African Heritage and violated the Separate car act. He was chosen by the committee because he was able to buy a ticket for a white railcar because of his light skin tone. Although only one-eighth African, he was considered and treated the same way as a full-blood African American (FindLaw). During this time period, racial equality was new and still unaccepted in many parts of the United States. The case of Plessy v. Ferguson is critical because basically legitimized segregation that was previously seen. The ruling of this case guaranteed the states right to employ racial institutions as long as they were "equal." This led to more controversy and the few positive effects of Reconstruction started to fade as states started to restrict facets of daily life.
The case of Plessy v. Ferguson is a crucial case in American History because it enforced segregation, making it legal to separate "Blacks and Whites." Segregation became concrete, rather than just a practice. "The government segregated on trains, in parks, schools, restaurants, theaters, swimming pools, and even cemeteries. If blacks broke these segregation laws, they were likely to end up either in prison or dead." (Cooper) Homer Plessy believed that the segregation law was still unjust and he challenged it by sitting and remaining on the white railroad car. Plessy claimed that the Separate Railcar Act violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. However, the court stated that the railcar act did not conflict with the amendment but implied that there was a "distinction between the white and colored races - a distinction which is founded in the color of the two races, and which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color." The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was to enforce equality, whether on the streets or in the courts. With Judge John Howard Ferguson at the highest level of the courts, the decision, "separate but equal" became legalized. This would change many African-American lives drastically and would create a life that was a nightmare for many. "This was a situation in which the Court misused its power to interpret and uphold the Constitution." (Cozzens)
The final decision for the case of Plessy v. Ferguson allowed and even required Jim Crow laws in Southern States. The government returned superiority to the Whites that the Thirteenth Amendment had eradicated after the Civil War. "Plessy v. Ferguson was the final step in erasing the policies put in place during Reconstruction." (Encyclopedia Britannica). The Reconstruction period was an endeavor to reunite the Union. The Reconstruction Era created positive changes in the lives of African Americans: "for example, the number of black children in school rose from 25,000 in 1860 to 149,581 in 1870 and the number of black voters rose from 0 in 1860 to 700,000 in 1867." (Meltzer 6-7). By 1986, the damage had been done. The Supreme Court had distributed power back to the Southern states and permitted them to let any remnant of equality wane, to be replaced by Jim Crow laws. The decision was only partially implemented after the court ruling. Railroad cars, schools, and public facilities were separate, but they were far from equal.
Although the Supreme Court ruled that the separate areas were to be equal, it is clear that equality was never an intention within southern states. "Laws permitting, and even requiring (the separation of blacks and whites) in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other.......... The argument also assumes that social prejudice may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the Negro except by an enforced commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this proposition. If the two races are to meet on terms of social equality, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other's merits and a voluntary consent of individuals........." (from the United States Supreme Court case of Plessy vs. Ferguson). People cannot be separated in everything they do, everywhere they go, and somehow still expect to be on mutual terms of equality. Frederick Douglass, in his 1872 article for The New National Era newspaper, wrote, "We want mixed schools.....because we want to do away with a system that exalts one class and debases another..... We look to mixed schools to teach that worth and ability are to be the criterion of manhood and not race and color." Douglass agreed that separate entities could not possibly be equal, because their experiences and their lifestyles have been inhibited and strictly managed.
Southern states took advantage of the consequences of the case's decision and began to pass segregation laws, requiring segregation and stating that anyone who violated the rules could and would be retained in jail. Though the Supreme Court stated that people could maintain their equality meanwhile being separate, Southern states exploited "separate but equal." Peaceful attempts to regain equality and justice were met with violent reactions. For nearly 60 years, the rulings tore apart the white and black communities of the South, destroying equality and peace between them. "The Jim Crow laws were effective for 58 years, until a new panel of United States Supreme Court justices ruled that segregation violated rights granted by the Constitution." (Encyclopedia Britannica) "These 'separate but equal' public facilities were ruled out of existence by May of 1954 in the Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka." (Cozzens) At that case, the Court decided that segregation of schools revealed superiority toward white children and ended required segregation. "Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon colored children. The impact is greater when it is the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of the child to learn....... We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal........." (from the United States Supreme Court case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka) The children who were considered "inferior" felt inferior and therefore became inferior. If one is inferior, it is the complete contradiction of equality.
In a society where people are judged and divided into groups by the color of their skin, no civility can exist. The Jim Crow laws of the 1800s and 1900s played a large factor in the deconstruction of society, completely destroying the benefits of the Reconstruction era. The laws expanded the gaps of racial inequality and allowed Southern states to oppress the blacks as an inferior race. When the U.S. Supreme Court was finally in opposition of segregation, racial separation that deprived the rights granted by Fourteenth Amendment, the everyday practices were obliged to transform. For too long, segregation legally and lawfully split up peoples of one nation and gave birth to more racial inequality which, to this day, has devastated society. Based on history of segregation, it is clear that the Courts has and may not always interpret the Constitution in the most equal and beneficial way. (FindLaw) When the Courts are taking a step onto the inappropriate path, it is up to the followers to take a stand and overcome the law, in order to restore and save equality, integrity, and justice.
Cooper, Michael "Plessy vs. Ferguson - African American History Essay." Plessy vs. Ferguson - African American History Essay. 24 Feb. 2006 EzineArticles.com. 24 May. 2010 〈http://ezinearticles.com/?Plessy-vs-Ferguson-African-American-History-Essay id=151390〈.
Cozzens, Lisa. Plessy vs. Ferguson: 〈http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/post-civilwar/plessy.html〈 1995. 20 May 2010
Encyclopedia Britannica. Jim Crow Law. 1999. 20 May 2010 〈http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article13/0,5716,44633+1+43641,00.html〈.
FindLaw. "FindLaw for Legal Professionals." 2010. 15 May 2010 〈http://laws.findlaw.com/us/163/537.html〈.
Klarman, Michael J., "From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality" (Oxford University Press USA, 2004). (15 May 2010) 〈http://0-lib.myilibrary.com.mercury.concordia.ca/Browse/open.asp?ID=56001&loc=19〈
Medley, Keith Weldon (2003). We As Freeman: Plessy v. Ferguson: The Fight Against Legal Segregation. Pelican Publishing Company. ISBN978-1589801202. 〈http://pelicanpub.com/proddetail.asp?prod=1589801202〈
Meltzer, Milton. Reconstruction by the Numbers. New York: Scolastic Search, 1991.
?The Oyez Project, Brown v. Board of Education (I) , 347 U.S. 483 (1954). 15 May 2010 〈http://oyez.org/cases/1950-1959/1952/1952_1〈
?The Oyez Project, Plessy v. Ferguson , 163 U.S. 537 (1896). 15 May 2010 〈http://oyez.org/cases/1851-1900/1895/1895_210〈