Plessy v Ferguson vs. Brown v Board of Education of Topeka Kansas
Topeka Kansas, Supreme Court, Jim Crow laws In our country’s history, the Supreme Court has overridden its past decisions only ten times. The most important of these overturned decisions are the rulings the Supreme Court made in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case and the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas.
These are arguably the two most important court cases in our nation’s history. Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas had almost exact opposite consequences. While the Plessy vs. Ferguson case established the doctrine of “separate but equal” and allowed for acts such as the Jim Crow laws to pass, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas not only abolished the doctrine of “separate but equal”, but it also played a major role in ending segregation by strengthening the civil rights movement.
Homer Plessy, a Louisiana resident, was light colored, but he had a black great-grandfather, which by law, made him black. Plessy lived in Louisiana. In Louisiana, there was a legislation in place that required every railway to have different railcars, one for whites, and one for colored races. Plessy sat in the white car.
When a white passenger boarded the train, Plessy was told to give up his seat. When he refused, a detective put him in jail. Plessy pleaded innocent, but was convicted. Plessy and his lawyer appealed to the federal district courts. The district court upheld the decision of the lower courts. Plessy then appealed to the Supreme Court.
Linda Brown had to walk six blocks every day to ride her bus, which would take her 1 mile away to a segregated black school. Her white friends, however, went to a “white” school only about seven blocks away. Linda Brown’s father, Oliver Brown, enrolled her in the “white” school, Sumner School, but she was not accepted into the school on basis of her race. Her father became very mad and with the parents of twenty other colored children, filed a class action lawsuit against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. He eventually appealed to the Supreme Court.
After Homer Plessy appealed to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court evaluated the case, and came to a 7-1 discussion against Plessy (Justice David Josiah did not participate because of the death of his daughter).
In his majority opinion, Justice Brown wrote, “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” Justice Brown is stating that the 14th Amendment says that all races are equal, but it does not prevent separating the facilities and services provided to each race.
Any person from any race who believes his race is inferior to others because of segregation is wrong. The facilities were separate, but they were supposedly equal. This however, was not the case. While the Supreme Court could find no difference between the “black” car and the “white” car, many segregated facilities were not equal in the slightest sense. Justice John Marshall Harlan, the only justice who disagreed, wrote a strong dissent. In his dissent, he said that this case would be infamous.
The Supreme Court considered Brown’s case very carefully. It was interesting to see how time changed the justices’ views. At first, only a few justices agreed to desegregate schools and other facilities. However, after a few weeks, Chief Justice Earl Warren called a convening of the Supreme Court justices. He gave a speech; a very famous speech. Warren came up with a simple argument: segregation was sustained only because of an honest belief in the supposed inferiority of blacks.
He also said that the Supreme Court must overrule Plessy vs. Ferguson to maintain its legitimacy as an institution of liberty. He also said that the Supreme Court must override its previous decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson unanimously to prevent any resistance. So, the Supreme Court voted unanimously to override its decision made in Plessy vs. Ferguson. In the majority opinion, Warren wrote that segregated facilities are separated and therefore, inherently unequal.
Plessy vs. Ferguson encouraged segregation. Segregation existed before Plessy vs. Ferguson, mostly in the South. Plessy vs. Ferguson strengthened segregation laws.
It promoted the “separate but equal” doctrine. It also strengthened a previous decision in which the Supreme Court let the state have legislative immunity when issuing laws that dealt with race, only requiring the laws to treat people from all races equally. Congress had no say in this area. Plessy vs. Ferguson also served as the basis for other cases, such as Lum vs. Rice, in which a Mississippi school was allowed to exclude a Chinese American girl. It also allowed segregation to spread northward.
The doctrine of “separate but equal” allowed for separate facilities, but consistently they were unequal. “Black” restaurants were not as nice or clean as “white” restaurants. This applied to schools, theaters, hotels, and almost every public facility. Plessy vs. Ferguson also allowed for the passing of the Jim Crow laws, which were passed mainly to keep African Americans from voting by requiring voters to give proof that they owned land and to pass a literacy test at poll stations. Every facility was segregated, but not many were equal.
In Topeka, Kansas, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas saw the end of segregation in all elementary and middle schools; high schools were already integrated. While Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas did see many facilities integrated, there was much opposition and resistance to this Supreme Court ruling. In the state of Virginia, Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. organized a movement called the Massive Resistance movement, which shut down schools rather than integrating them.
The Attorney General of Texas, John Ben Shepperd, organized a campaign with the sole purpose of generating legal obstacles to integration. In 1957, possibly the most remembered example of opposition to integration, nine black students tried to enter Little Rock Central High School. Arkansas’s governor, Gov. Orval Faubus, called out his state’s National Guard to block them from entering. President Dwight D. Eisenhower deployed parts of the 101st Airborne Division and federalized Arkansas’s National Guard.
Another infamous response was the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door where Alabama’s own governor, Gov. George Wallace himself stood and blocked the door at the University of Alabama to prevent two black students from enrolling. He only moved when confronted by General Henry Graham of the Alabama National Guard. Gen. Henry Graham was ordered by President John F. Kennedy to intervene. However, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas did strengthen the Civil Rights Movement, and played a major role in ending segregation.
The 14th amendment has several sections. It discusses citizenship. If a person is born in the United States, Puerto Rico, or any other United States territory, or is born to American parents, they are automatically citizens. If a person does not fall in any of these categories, they can go through the naturalization process to become citizens. It also refutes the three-fifths compromise. It says that representatives shall be based on population of whole persons.
The 14th amendment also says that a person cannot hold any kind of political or elected office if they have engaged in any form of rebellion against the U.S. However, the most important point of the 14th amendment is the Equal Protection Clause. It says, “…no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It forbids states from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law”.
Seven Supreme Court justices decided that segregating facilities did not violate the 14th amendment. Facilities were separated, but they were supposedly equal. The seven justices who voted against Plessy in Plessy vs. Ferguson believed that segregated facilities were “separate but equal”. This was not just an expression.
This became a doctrine. This one phrase allowed segregation to creep into the north, and allowed southern states to pass Jim Crow laws, which prevented most African Americans from voting. These are only a few consequences out of the many that were a result of the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy vs. Ferguson.
The justices who unanimously voted to overturn Plessy vs. Ferguson in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas said that segregation in itself is inequality, and it therefore violates the 14th amendment of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. Chief Justice Earl Warren stated it beautifully when he said that segregation is only the byproduct of an “honest belief in the inferiority of the Negroes”.
So, the decision the justices made in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas was not just against segregation laws, it was against the cultural mindset of that time. Now, it is the most remembered court case of all time. The 14th amendment states that all races are equal and have to be treated as such. Chief Justice Warren said that segregation is inherently unequal. Therefore, by the transitive property, the 14th amendment is violated when segregation is present.
These two cases are most likely the most important court cases in the entire history of the United States. One encouraged segregation and inequality while the other fought and reversed a mindset that was hundreds of years old.
Although Plessy vs. Ferguson encouraged segregation, allowed for the passing of Jim Crow laws, and portrayed blacks as inferior all under the doctrine of “separate but equal”, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas reversed the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision, helped desegregate races and allowed for everyone to have equal opportunities.
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