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It was a group of Creole professionals that formed the committee that tried to have the Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1890 declared unconstitutional through Plessy v. Ferguson. In May 1896, the Supreme Court issued a 7–1 decision against Plessy ruling that the Louisiana law did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, stating that although the Fourteenth Amendment established the legal equality of white and black Americans, it did not and could not require the elimination of all social or other "distinctions based upon color". Brian Duignan is a senior editor at Encyclopædia Britannica. Plessy v. Ferguson originated in Louisiana, where, as a result of previous French influence, there was generally greater toleration of people of color than in the rest of the Deep South. The judge found that Louisiana could enforce this law insofar as it affected railroads within its boundaries. A Single, But Powerful, Dissent. [31] The doctrine had been strengthened also by an 1875 Supreme Court decision that limited the federal government's ability to intervene in state affairs, guaranteeing to Congress only the power "to restrain states from acts of racial discrimination and segregation". [21] Next, the Court considered whether the law violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, which reads: "nor shall any State ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Despite the laws enforcing compulsory education, and the lack of public schools for Chinese children in Lum's area, the Supreme Court ruled that she had the choice to attend a private school. [33], Despite the pretense of "separate but equal", non-whites essentially always received inferior facilities and treatment.[34]. The Plessy Decision. Homer Plessy, who was seven-eighths white and one-eighth African American, purchased a rail ticket for travel within Louisiana and took a seat in a car reserved for white passengers. [14], In his case, Homer Adolph Plessy v. The State of Louisiana, Plessy's lawyers argued that the state law which required East Louisiana Railroad to segregate trains had denied him his rights under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution,[15] which provided for equal treatment under the law. But in view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. Yet the act did not conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment either, Brown argued, because that amendment was intended to secure only the legal equality of African Americans and whites, not their social equality. In reaching this conclusion he relied on the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Civil Rights Cases (1883), which found that racial discrimination against African Americans in inns, public conveyances, and places of public amusement “imposes no badge of slavery or involuntary servitude…but at most, infringes rights which are protected from State aggression by the XIVth Amendment.”. One was signed by Albion W. Tourgée and James C. Walker and the other by Samuel F. Phillips and his legal partner F. D. McKenney. Tourgée built his case upon violation of Plessy's rights under the Thirteenth Amendment, prohibiting slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees the same rights to all citizens of the United States, and the equal protection of those rights, against the deprivation of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Decided in 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson dictated … By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. In 1890 a new Louisiana law required railroads to provide “equal but separate accommodations for the white, and colored, races.” Outraged, the black community in New Orleans decided to test the rule. But, by the statute in question, a Chinaman can ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the United States, while citizens of the black race in Louisiana, many of whom, perhaps, risked their lives for the preservation of the Union ... and who have all the legal rights that belong to white citizens, are yet declared to be criminals, liable to imprisonment, if they ride in a public coach occupied by citizens of the white race. The Court rejected the notion that the law marked black Americans with "a badge of inferiority", and stated that racial prejudice could not be overcome by legislation.[21]. Both Dred Scott and Plessy usually sit at the top of lists of the Supreme Court's worst decisions. The majority opinion found that the “separate but equal” clause, specifically the separate cars in regards to the case, did not reestablish slavery or involuntary servitude. The 1896 landmark Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson established that the policy of “separate but equal” was legal and states could pass laws requiring segregation of the races. I allude to the Chinese race. Plessy v. Ferguson, legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court, on May 18, 1896, by a seven-to-one majority (one justice did not participate), advanced the controversial “separate but equal” doctrine for assessing the constitutionality of racial segregation laws. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country. As plaintiff in the test case the committee chose a person of mixed race in order to support its contention that the law could not be consistently applied, because it failed to define the white and “coloured” races. [12] In speaking for the court's decision that Ferguson's judgment did not violate the 14th Amendment, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Charles Erasmus Fenner cited a number of precedents, including two key cases from Northern states. Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Henry Billings Brown rejected Plessy’s arguments that the act violated the Thirteenth Amendment (1865) to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibited slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted full and equal rights of citizenship to African Americans. [43], The separate facilities and institutions accorded to the African-American community were consistently inferior[45] to those provided to the White community. Memorial marker at the location of Homer Plessy's arrest on June 7, 1892, in New Orleans. Plessy then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his case. Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, Inc. Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, Inyo County v. Paiute-Shoshone Indians of the Bishop Community, Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee. He lost at trial, and his conviction was affirmed on his appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court. On 13 April 1896, Plessy's lawyers argued before the Supreme Court that Louisiana had violated Plessy's Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection under the law. The court rendered its decision one month later, on May 18. However, under Louisiana law, he was classified as black, and thus required to sit in the "colored" car. Board of Education of Topeka explicitly rejected Plessy’s “separate but equal” doctrine as it applied to public education and implied its unconstitutionality in all other spheres of public life. (The state Supreme Court had ruled earlier that the law could not be applied to interstate travel.) Plessy refused and was arrested immediately by the detective. In his lone dissenting opinion, which would become a classic of American civil rights jurisprudence, Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan insisted that the court had ignored the obvious purpose of the Separate Car Act, which was, “under the guise of giving equal accommodation for whites and blacks, to compel the latter to keep to themselves while traveling in railroad passenger coaches.” Because it presupposed—and was universally understood to presuppose—the inferiority of African Americans, the act imposed a badge of servitude upon them in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment, according to Harlan. The Court concluded that although the Fourteenth Amendment was meant to guarantee legal equality of all races in America, it was not intended to prevent social or other types of discrimination.[21]. In 2009, Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, descendants of participants on both sides of the 1896 Supreme Court case, announced establishing the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation for Education and Reconciliation. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy agreed to be arrested for refusing to move from a seat reserved for whites. The Court's opinion first dismissed any claim that the Louisiana law violated the Thirteenth Amendment, which, in the majority's opinion, did no more than ensure that black Americans had the basic level of legal equality that was necessary to abolish slavery. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. [32] The ruling basically granted states legislative immunity when dealing with questions of race, guaranteeing the states' right to implement racially separate institutions, requiring them only to be "equal". [13] As planned, the train was stopped, and Plessy was taken off the train at Press and Royal streets. In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld state-imposed racial segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson, a civil rights case involving Louisiana train cars. [14] Plessy v. Ferguson was important because it essentially established the constitutionality of racial segregation. They hired Albion Tourgée, a Reconstruction-era judge and social reformer, as their legal counsel. As a controlling legal precedent, it prevented constitutional challenges to racial segregation for more than half a century until it was finally overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brownv. Plessy v. Ferguson was important because it essentially established the constitutionality of racial segregation. Plessy vs Ferguson (1896)was a United States Supreme Court case that established the precedent of “separate but equal” and provided the legal justification for the expansion of segregation in America.At the end of the Reconstruction period in 1877, the South (and to a certain degree, the North) had resisted attempts to integrate the newly freed slaves into their society. Brewer did not participate in the case because he had left Washington just before oral arguments to attend to the sudden death of his daughter. [8] Concerned, a group of prominent black, creole of color, and white creole New Orleans residents formed the Comité des Citoyens (Committee of Citizens) dedicated to repeal the law or fight its effect. [6] However, a series of subsequent decisions beginning with the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, which held that the "separate but equal" doctrine is unconstitutional in the context of public schools and educational facilities, have severely weakened Plessy to the point that it is considered to have been de facto overruled. The doctrine had been strengthened also by an 1875 Supreme Court decision that limited the federal govern… [28], Plessy legitimized state laws establishing racial segregation in the South and provided an impetus for further segregation laws. Contributor Names Supreme Court of the United States (Author) Some commentators, such as Gabriel J. Chin[36] and Eric Maltz,[37] have viewed Harlan's Plessy dissent in a more critical light, and suggested it be viewed in context with his other decisions. Britannica now has a site just for parents! Get a Britannica Premium subscription and gain access to exclusive content. Because it thus attempted to regulate the civil rights of citizens on the arbitrary basis of their race, the act was repugnant to the principle of legal equality underlying the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal-protection clause. Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities as long as the segregated facilities were equal in quality, a doctrine that came to be known as " separate but equal ". It is simply to say that following the order of Divine Providence, human authority ought not to compel these widely separated races to intermix. Plessy v. Ferguson established the constitutionality of laws mandating separate but equal public accommodations for African Americans and whites. Unit 5, Period 6 Contextualization & Making Inferences… Plessy v Ferguson, 1896 Directions: Using knowledge of history as well as the images and notes below, analyze the historical significance of Plessy v Ferguson.Highlight the main points of the ruling as well as the comparative context included in the notes. Upon being charged for boarding a "whites only" train car, Plessy's lawyers defended him by arguing that the law was unconstitutional. The Plessy v. Ferguson case was important because it established the constitutionality of "separate but equal" laws, in which states segregated public services and accommodations for African-Americans and whites. https://www.britannica.com/event/Plessy-v-Ferguson-1896, Cornell University Law School - Legal Information Institute - Plessy v. Ferguson, Our Documents - Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Plessy v. Ferguson - Student Encyclopedia (Ages 11 and up). The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. For example, some states prohibited blacks, who were not a party to a suit, from testifying in court. Significance: The decision in Plessy v. Ferguson continued to permit public segregation under the guise of “separate but equal.” It ultimately set back civil rights in the United States and resulted in many businesses defining themselves as “serving whites only.” Plessy v. Ferguson was eventually overturned in 1954. The Separate Car Act did not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment, according to Brown, because it did not reestablish slavery or constitute a “badge” of slavery or servitude. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). "[32] Harlan's concerns about the encroachment on the 14th Amendment would prove well-founded; states proceeded to institute segregation-based laws that became known as the Jim Crow system. States which had successfully integrated elements of their society abruptly adopted oppressive legislation that erased reconstruction era efforts. In 1892, Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act, which segregated carrier cars by race. At Plessy’s trial in U.S. District Court, Judge John H. Ferguson dismissed his contention that the act was unconstitutional. Some established de jure segregated educational facilities, separate public institutions such as hotels and restaurants, separate beaches among other public facilities, and restrictions on interracial marriage, but in other cases segregation in the North was related to unstated practices and operated on a de facto basis, although not by law, among numerous other facets of daily life. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. A video case brief of Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896). The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. Ferguson was represented by Louisiana Attorney General M. J. Cunningham and Plessy by F. D. McKenney and S. F. Phillips. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brownv. Title: Plessy v. Ferguson 1 Plessy v. Ferguson 25 PENALTY Louisiana Separate Car Act (1890) "equal but separate accommodations 20 days in jail Homer Plessy 30, shoemaker 7/8white 1/8black colored car 1892 Judge John Howard Ferguson "unconstitutional on trains that traveled through several states." Plessy vs Ferguson case was was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities as long as the segregated facilities were equal in quality, a doctrine that came to be known as "separate but equal". He concluded that “in my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case” (1857), which had declared (in an opinion written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney) that African Americans were not entitled to the rights of U.S. citizenship. On May 18, 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court case Plessy v.Ferguson ruled that separate-but-equal facilities were constitutional. "[18][17], Undaunted, the Committee appealed to the United States Supreme Court in 1896. African-American community leaders, who had achieved brief political success during the Reconstruction era and even into the 1880s, lost gains made when their voters were excluded from the political system. However, the judge presiding over his case, John Howard Ferguson, ruled that Louisiana had the right to regulate railroad companies while they operated within state boundaries. 1, National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Plessy_v._Ferguson&oldid=1001755865, African-American history between emancipation and the civil rights movement, History of racial segregation in the United States, Passenger rail transportation in Louisiana, United States Supreme Court cases of the Fuller Court, Overruled United States Supreme Court decisions, Wikipedia pending changes protected pages, Short description is different from Wikidata, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, The "separate but equal" provision of private services mandated by state government is constitutional under the, Brown, joined by Fuller, Field, Gray, Shiras, White, Peckham. of Okla. Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. The Court reasoned that laws requiring racial separation were within Louisiana's police power: the core sovereign authority of U.S. States to pass laws on matters of "health, safety, and morals". Updates? Plessy legitimized state laws establishing racial segregation in the Southand provided an impetus for further segregation laws. Omissions? As a controlling legal precedent, it prevented constitutional challenges to racial segregation for more than half a century until it was finally overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. [30] Legislative achievements won during the Reconstruction Era were erased through means of the "separate but equal" doctrine. [38] Both point to a passage of Harlan's Plessy dissent as particularly troubling:[39][40], There is a race so different from our own that we do not permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States. Plessy is widely regarded as one of the worst decisions in U.S. Supreme Court history. D) It prompted President Truman to end segregation in the United States Army since the American Revolution. Plessy v. Ferguson strengthened racial segregation in public accommodations and services throughout the United States and ensured its continuation for more than half a century by giving it constitutional sanction. Historian Rogers Smith noted on the subject that "lawmakers frequently admitted, indeed boasted, that such measures as complex registration rules, literacy and property tests, poll taxes, white primaries, and grandfather clauses were designed to produce an electorate confined to a white race that declared itself supreme", notably rejecting the 14th and 15th Amendments to the American Constitution.[47]. Oral arguments were held before the Supreme Court on April 13, 1896. Allowed for Segregation and Separate but Equal which limited rights of African Americans. The case originated in 1892 as a challenge to Louisiana’s Separate Car Act (1890). This page was last edited on 21 January 2021, at 04:46. “Our Constitution is color-blind,” Harlan wrote. Legislative achievements won during the Reconstruction Era were erased through means of the "separate but equal" doctrine. [12] After Plessy took a seat in the whites-only railway car, he was asked to vacate it, and sit instead in the blacks-only car. After the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Plessy v. Ferguson case, the racial climate of the South quickly worsened for African Americans. When Plessy was told to vacate the whites-only car, he refused and was arrested. It also legitimized laws in the North requiring racial segregation such as in the Boston school segregation case noted by Justice Brown in his majority opinion. Plessy v. Ferguson is one of the most important Supreme Court cases, in which the Court held that racial segregation is constitutional under the “Separate but Equal” Doctrine. “Separate but equal” stayed standard teaching in U.S. law until its disavowal in the 1954 Supreme Court choice Brown v. Board of Education. Tourgée argued that the reputation of being a black man was "property", which, by the law, implied the inferiority of African Americans as compared to whites. [51], "Plessy" redirects here. Legal equality was adequately respected in the act because the accommodations provided for each race were required to be equal and because the racial segregation of passengers did not by itself imply the legal inferiority of either race—a conclusion supported, he reasoned, by numerous state-court decisions that had affirmed the constitutionality of laws establishing separate public schools for white and African American children. [43] The principles of Plessy v. Ferguson were affirmed in Lum v. Rice (1927), which upheld the right of a Mississippi public school for white children to exclude a Chinese American girl. After this, Jim Crow laws, which were a system of laws meant to discriminate against African Americans, spread across the U.S. For decades, any type of public facility could be legally separated into 'whites only' and 'blacks only.' The effect of the law, he argued, was to interfere with the personal liberty and freedom of movement of both African Americans and whites. Significance of Plessy v. Ferguson. Plessy's lawyer, Albion Tourgee, claimed Plessy's 13th and 14th amendment rights were violated. The Creole, or 'gens de couleur libres,' freed descendants of African mothers and white fathers, created ambiguity in racial segregation laws. The court ruled that segregation was legal as long as it was "equal" Plessy v. Ferguson was a landmark constitutional case being that it upheld state racial segregation laws, specifically in regards to the 13th Amendment. In contrast, social equality, which would entail the “commingling” of the races in public conveyances and elsewhere, did not then exist and could not be legally created: “If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.” In response to Plessy’s comparison of the Separate Car Act to hypothetical statutes requiring African Americans and whites to walk on different sides of the street or to live in differently coloured houses, Brown responded that the Separate Car Act was intended to preserve “public peace and good order” and was therefore a “reasonable” exercise of the legislature’s police power. In Plessy v.Ferguson the Court infamously ruled it was within constitutional boundaries for the state of Louisiana to enforce racial segregation in public facilities. Tourgée and Phillips appeared in the courtroom to speak on behalf of Plessy. [42], The effect of the Plessy ruling was immediate; there were already significant differences in funding for the segregated school system, which continued into the 20th century; states consistently underfunded black schools, providing them with substandard buildings, textbooks, and supplies. The prospect of greater state influence in matters of race worried numerous advocates of civil equality, including Supreme Court Justice John Harlan, who wrote in his Plessy dissent, "we shall enter upon an era of constitutional law, when the rights of freedom and American citizenship cannot receive from the nation that efficient protection which heretofore was unhesitatingly accorded to slavery and the rights of the master. In answering the charge that segregation perpetuated race prejudice, the Massachusetts court famously stated: "This prejudice, if it exists, is not created by law, and probably cannot be changed by law. Please refer to the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have any questions. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. [44] Jim Crow laws and practices spread northward in response to a second wave of African-American migration from the South to northern and midwestern cities. Sipuel v. Board of Regents of Univ. Plessy v. Ferguson. The Plessy v.Ferguson decision upheld the principle of racial segregation over the next half-century. The law required that all railroads operating in the state provide “equal but separate accommodations” for white and African American passengers and prohibited passengers from entering accommodations other than those to which they had been assigned on the basis of their race. [36] Maltz has argued that "modern commentators have often overstated Harlan's distaste for race-based classifications", pointing to other aspects of decisions in which Harlan was involved. At trial, Plessy’s lawyers argued that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. Plessy's lawyers had argued that segregation laws inherently implied that black people were inferior, and therefore stigmatized them with a second-class status that violated the Equal Protection Clause. On May 18, 1896, the Supreme Court issued a 7–1 decision against Plessy that upheld the constitutionality of Louisiana's train car segregation laws. [21] It held that as long as a law that classified and separated people by their race was a reasonable and good faith exercise of a State's police power—and was not designed to oppress a particular class—the law was legal. Briefs were submitted on Plessy 's lawyer, Albion Tourgee, claimed Plessy 's lawyer, Albion Tourgee claimed. Despite its infamy, the U.S. Supreme Court on April 13, 1896 lawyers argued that the Car. 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