Segregation Laws and Interpretation

Unit 3 Social Studies Summative

Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896)

During the 1896 time period, the civil war to end slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation had already happened. This meant the time period also took place only a bit after the reconstruction era. Thus, there was still strong racism and segregation in many states. In fact, racial segregation was very common. Segregation was practiced informally, although some states even made laws that required slavery. In 1857, the case of Dred Scott vs Sanderford decided that African Americans weren't citizens and couldn't bring cases to court. In 1868, this Dred Scott decision was overruled and the 14th Amendment gave citizenship rights to all Americans. In 1883, the Supreme Court refused to ban laws that required private places to disregard race, believing that they had their own choice. And finally, in 1890, Louisiana adopted the Louisiana's Separate Car Act. It was believed that the Louisiana's Separate Car Act did not violate the 14th Amendment because it gave different colors "equal but separate accommodations" according to The law required different races to be prevented from accessing other race's accommodations even though they were equal. (

In the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson, Homer Plessy was a 30 year old shoemaker who was ⅛ black and ⅞ white. He went to the white rail in Louisiana and sat on a seat that was reserved fro white people. When the driver found out that he was partly black, the driver asked Plessy to leave since he believed Plessy should go to the colored rail. Plessy refused to go to the colored rail and was therefore immediately jailed and put on trial.

The question before the court was asking whether or not laws requiring segregation violated the equal protection clause that was provided with the 14th Amendment. The only constitutional clause or amendment that was involved in this case was the 14th Amendment equal protection clause.

In a 7-1 vote, where one judge did not vote, the court went against Plessy, believing that he could be ordered to go on the color rail even if he was only ⅛ black. The one person who did not go against Plessy believed that the 14th Amendment said the government should act colorblind and that different races should be treated equally.

The impact of the Plessy vs. Ferguson case was that southern states were encouraged to make more segregation laws which further discouraged equality between the different races in America.

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Brown vs. Board of Education (1954)

The most important precedent for this case was the Plessy vs. Ferguson case which took place in 1896, as shown above. After this case, segregation between races increased even more. In 1875, the Civil Rights Act said that all races should be treated equally. However, this law was later overruled in private areas, so that private areas could decide their own segregation laws. Therefore, at the time of the case, segregation was still strong and many still believed in it, although some people strongly did not believe in it. The Supreme Court also decided that some places, like residential homes, shouldn't have segregation. But, from having segregation for so long, it was hard for everyone to really get rid of their old ways of segregating and change to colorblind people in terms of race.

The case was about how black children were not being allowed to attend schools with white people if the schools were in areas that either required or allowed segregation. Both white and black schools had the same equipment, payment, and skill level in terms of education, yet they were still being segregated by race. The case was brought to the Supreme Court to decide whether or not you could segregate in this particular case.

The question before the court asked whether or not segregating children to different schools by race was violating the 14th Amendment right to equal protection of laws that everyone was given. The only constitutional clause or amendment involved was the 14th Amendment right to equal protection of laws.

In a 9-0 ruling by the court, the court decided to take the side of Brown, saying there could be no segregation in schools by race, because it could make one race feel inferior to another race which would violate the 14th Amendment.

The impact of the case was that schools could no longer segregate based on race. This idea changed the whole meaning behind the 14th Amendment. The 14th Amendment wasn't just about giving everyone the same things to make them equal, but about giving them what they needed so they could truly feel equal.

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In the Plessy vs. Ferguson case, the case was decided because at the time, there was still very strong segregation and most people believed there should be segregation. Thus, the Supreme Court believed the 14th Amendment said people of different races should be separated but would still receive the same things. In the Brown vs. Board of Education case over 50 years later, people still believed in segregation, but many people were believing that segregation should be ended. This time, the Supreme Court interpreted the 14th Amendment to say that people of different races should get equal treatment and more importantly, feel equal. In order to feel equal, there should be no segregation, and thus the Supreme Court got rid of segregation.


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"Context of '1896: ’Plessy v. Ferguson’ Case Establishes ‘Separate but Equal’ Doctrine in US Law'" Context of '1896: ’Plessy v. Ferguson’ Case Establishes ‘Separate but Equal’ Doctrine in US Law' History Commons, n.d. Web. 04 June 2015.

"History - Brown v. Board of Education Re-enactment." USCOURTSGOV RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 June 2015.

"June 7th Marks Beginning of 'Plessy v. Ferguson'" TheGrio. N.p., 29 May 2012. Web. 04 June 2015.

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