Plessy Vs Ferguson - Are Racial Segregation Laws Unconstitutional?

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If you've ever wondered if racial segregation laws are constitutional, you should read Plessy Vs. Ferguson. This landmark case from the United States Supreme Court determined that laws banning racial segregation in public accommodations are not. The courts held that the facilities for different races must be the same. This concept became known as "separate but equal."

Homer Adolph Plessy

In 1892, the case of Homer Adolph Plessy v. Ferguson was decided in the Supreme Court. Although Homer Plessy had committed no criminal offense, he had been arrested as a protester against the segregation laws and the use of trains for whites only. His arrest was the first in a long line of legal cases that led to segregation laws and the separation of blacks and whites.

The case ended with the United States Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Separate Car Act of 1865. The court ruled that the act did not reimpose slavery but only guaranteed equal accommodations for both races. Ultimately, the case solidified the Jim Crow era and ushered in legalized apartheid in the United States. Today, the Supreme Court has issued more than one million opinions addressing the issues of race in the U.S.

The Separate Car Act

The Separate Car Act was passed by Congress in 1890 and is often referred to as the "Jay-Walk" because white passengers were allowed to travel in the first class cars. Its purpose was to prevent discrimination on trains. In the case of Daniel Desdunes, a Black passenger on the Louisiana and Nashville Railroad boarded a designated white car. The railroad had charged him with violating the Separate Car Act, which he denied. The railroad's private detective arranged for the arrest. Eventually, the state's high court ruled that the law was unconstitutional and a violation of the Commerce Clause.

In the 1880s and 1890s, passenger trains were the biggest business in the United States. The Separate Car Act was one of the first post-Reconstruction Jim Crow laws, passed in Louisiana. It preceded the law requiring separate public schools, segregated bars, and banning interracial marriage by four years. However, the Separate Car Act had far-reaching consequences that are still not fully understood.

The Supreme Court's ruling

There are several factors to consider when reviewing the Supreme Court's decision in Plessy vs Ferguson. First, the court was unable to find any violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. The court held that the doctrine only applies to "involuntary servitude," not to the regulation of commerce among states. Secondly, the court rejected the argument that the Louisiana statute limited freedom, stating that the Louisiana law simply distinguished between races without creating a legal difference.

The Plessy vs Ferguson case is one of the most important landmarks in American history. It was decided by the Supreme Court in 1896 after an African American passenger was denied a seat on a white train in Louisiana. This decision signaled the end of civil rights cases that pushed for racial integration in America. However, the ruling did not make civil rights legislation a reality.

Justice John Marshall Harlan's dissent

In his dissent from Plessy vs. Ferguson, Justice John Marshall Harlan argued against the constitutionality of the state law requiring racial segregation on passenger trains in Louisiana. His famous words, "Our Constitution is colorblind, and we are all equal before the law," are etched into the collective memory of Americans as a charter for a multiracial democracy. But his most famous dissent came during the Civil Rights Cases and was not as modern in its rationale.

Though born into slavery, Justice John Marshall Harlan rose to prominence in the horseracing world. He brought American thoroughbreds to England, and became a leading African American politician in Ohio. His dissents commanded much attention in the Black press. The arguments of Justice John Marshall Harlan were focused on by African American leaders and inspired a whole generation of future African American lawyers.

July 08, 2022



Race and Ethnicity Racism

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