Plessy v. Ferguson: the truth about segregation

June 17, 2009
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On June 7, 1892 Homer Pessy was arrested due to his, and a group of black citizens want to test the constitutionality of the “Separate Car Act”. His argument was that it went against the 14th amendment, in the case “Plessy v. Ferguson”. The 14th amendment makes every one born or naturalized in the US a citizen of the US. But it also guarantees that every United States citizen will be granted the same protection under the law, the 14th amendment makes every one in the US equal before the law. Although the 14th amendment guarantees those rights, the 10th amendment gives the right to decide on anything that is not covered in the constitution. The 14th amendment guarantees equal protection, witch is the reason why this decision will haunt our country for decades to come.

The case “Plessy v. Ferguson” was not simply about Plessy not being able to sit on a white only passenger car. It was more about the big picture, segregation. “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine “separate but equal” has not placed. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold the plaintiffs and others similarly situated… are…deprived of equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th amendment.”(landmarkcases.org/brown/opinion1.htlm). It began when the “separate car act” was enacted in 1890. Then a group of black citizens wanted to challenge the act, they chose Homer Plessy to buy a 1st class ticket, and ride in a white only car. He was purposefully caught, and went to judge Ferguson with his case. After losing in Ferguson’s court, and the Louisiana state Supreme Court, he went to the Supreme Court of the United States. The fact that this case was a test to try the Louisiana law proves that this was not simply about the Separate Car Act. It was more simply a test
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of the states ability to have state-wide required segregation. Even though it took more than 50 years for people to realize it, the “Separate but Equal” clause was disobeying the 14th amendment ever since it was created. But one might think that Earl Warren was only talking about educational facilities, but doesn’t all segregation fall under the category of “others similarly situated”. This case truly wasn’t about the separate car act, it was about segregation.

Although there were only a few people involved in the actual case, in reality, it affected the entire south, black and white. The people directly associated with the case were, a group of black citizens, Homer Plessy, East Louisiana Railroad Company, Albion Tourgee, John Ferguson, Henry Brown, and John Harlan. The black citizens, East Louisiana Railroad Company, Homer Plessy, Albion Tourgee, and John Harlan worked together to over rule the law. John Ferguson and Henry Brown worked together to try and save the Louisiana law. Yet there were only a few listed above, the entire south was affected by this single case. The white people were involved because they were the people that wanted the act, and would have made the world to them, better. Not only that but it would make them feel “better” than the black people. Black people were affected because a feeling of inferiority was brought upon them, and there rights were being violated. There were was a very little amount of people directly involved in the case, but every one in the south was greatly affected by it.

“Plessy v. Ferguson” was unlawfully decided against Plessy. In the majority opinion Henry Brown talked about social and political equality. “…If the civil and

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political rights of both races are equal one cannot be inferior civilly or politically…” (landmarkcases.org/plessy/excerpts_maj.htlm). The civil and political rights of both races have technically been met if a white man cannot enter a colored passenger car either, and if the cars are equal. The political rights of both races have already been met. “…The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights can’t be secured to the Negro except by an enforced commingling of the races. We cannot accept this proposition, if the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be a result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each others merits and a voluntary consent of individuals…” (landmarkcases.org/plessy/excerpts_maj.htlm). As Henry Brown explains social equality, he mentions that legislation would have to force people together, but if you put two completely different people in the same place for a long period of time, they will eventually commingle, and get along with each other. He also assumes that both races have to like the other race in order for social equality, and the accepting of each other. But if one doesn’t like another they never have to be around them. In Henry Brown’s majority opinion he states that political equality has been met, but social equality will never be met. Yet that is untrue, because social equality has been met today, and it seems to be working just fine.

The courts decision on this case was completely unconstitutional, and morally wrong. “…No state shall make of enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges of immunities of citizens of the US…” (US constitution). Wouldn’t one think that the

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creation the “Separate Car Act” was the state making a law that abridges the privileges of citizens of the US. And wouldn’t one think that the arrest of Homer Plessy was the enforcing of a law which abridges the privileges of US citizens. But a law that makes citizens of one state inferior to citizens in the rest of the US is also against the 14th amendment. So wouldn’t a law that enforces the inferiority of someone be against the 14th amendment. “…Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law…” (lanmarkcases.org/plessy/excerpts_min.htlm). All citizens, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, black, brown, grey, or white, constitutionally are completely equal before the law. The constitution does not tolerate classes among citizens; it does not tolerate the splitting of the people it’s meant to protect. The constitution was written to bring those separate classes together. The “Separate but Equal” clause allowed for segregation to spread ferociously in schools, public facilities, restaurants, hotels, theaters, public transportation and more. This case was the start to a problem that will have haunted our country for decades to come. Segregation should have just been stopped then, to relieve a big problem in our country’s history. The segregation between blacks and whites has been unconstitutional 100 years ago, as it is now.

States rights and personal rights have been at conflict for decades now, and it is just as strongly fought now as it was 100 years ago. Medical reasons are just one of the major issues that are being fought right now. Medical marijuana is one way that some states are expressing their 10th amendment rights. Even though the federal government has made marijuana had made it illegal, some states allow patients with painful diseases to smoke
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marijuana to mend the pain. Assisted suicide is one that our state is fighting, even though it goes against federal law. Gay marriage rights are also a states rights issue that is becoming a problem. But it more fits this case because it is discriminating against one group of people, limiting group’s rights. The fact that segregation is still very much alive today, especially with gay rights, is proving that segregation will remain in this country until its demise. There are hundreds of types of segregation, but only some have been addressed, and or fixed. Segregation is as alive today as it was 100 years ago.

The case “Plessy v. Ferguson” was a test of a Louisiana law’s constitutionality. It took 50 years to realize it, but the constitutionally and morally right way was to end segregation. This case was never about Plessy not being able to ride on a white only car on a train headed to Covington, Louisiana. It was about a group of black citizens trying to stop segregation from ever happening.










Works Cited
“14th amendment of the constitution.”
Thomaslegion.net/14thamendmentoftheunitedstatesconstitution.
Brown, Henry. “Majority Opinion.” landmarkcases.org/plessy/excerpts_maj.htlm.
Harlan, John. “Dissenting Opinion.” landmarkcases.org/plessy/excerpts_min.htlm.
Robinson, Susan. “The Plessy v. Ferguson.” Gibbsmagazine.com/plessy.
Warren, Earl. “Majority Opinion.” Landmarkcases.org/brown/opinion.htlm.
Zimmerman, Thomas. “Plessy v. Ferguson.”
Bgsu.edu/departments/acs/1890s/plessy/plessy.htlm.





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