Plessy v. Ferguson

Plessy v. Ferguson

Plessy v. Ferguson

Plessy v. Ferguson

Synopsis

More than the story of one man's case, this book tells the story of entire generations of people marked as "mixed race" in America amid slavery and its aftermath, and being officially denied their multicultural identity and personal rights as a result.

Excerpt

PLESSY V. FERGUSON lies as a ruined landmark in U.S. history. The decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on May 18, 1896, found no Constitutional violation in Louisiana’s enforced separation of the races in its 1890 Separate Car Act. The decision set in law a rule known as the “separate but equal” doctrine. It let states mandate discrimination on the basis of race, and it let states make violating segregation a crime. The Court’s ruling reached far beyond railway coaches, which were the immediate subject in Plessy v. Ferguson. The rule stretched from transportation to schools and other public services and facilities such as parks, pools, drinking fountains, and restrooms. The decision figured everywhere, extending tentacles deep inside public and private life throughout the United States. Its effects especially marked the South, where slavery long dominated society.

The Court majority rejected all reasoning that segregation extended slavery in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. Writing for the 7-to-1 majority, Massachusetts-born Justice Henry Billings Brown professed to see no harm in racial segregation. Justice Brown and his concurring colleagues saw separate-but-equal segregation as treating nonwhites and whites the same. They saw race as a real and reasonable divider of people. They saw no way law could or should change or intervene in race relations. To them, racial segregation reflected what Justice Brown described as “the established usages, customs and traditions of the people.” The majority saw its decision as confirming prevailing arrangements and attitudes. It represented no new development.

Plessy v. Ferguson became a symbol of resurgent white supremacy scrambling in the United States to reimpose the bulwarks of its domination breached with the outlawing of slavery in 1865. In many circles, the Supreme Court’s decision reflected southern conservative whites’ final reascendancy from the ordeal of federally imposed Reconstruction and civil rights enforcement. They had used the terror of vigilante violence with groups such as the Ku Klux Klan to rout and intimidate opposition. With . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.