A Long Overdue Change of Opinion

Essay by BPUrmanCollege, UndergraduateB, May 2008

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Prior to the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, racial segregation flourished in America. These segregation policies were largely made legitimate in 1896 with the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson. The case upheld that as long as facilities were “equal” it was alright to segregate them under the fourteenth amendment. The resulting doctrine is known as “separate but equal.” However, facilities for non-whites remained largely inferior. Brown v. Board brought fourth this fact and sought to prove that segregation itself is unequal.

Southern States endorsed segregation of blacks and whites after federal troops withdrew from the region when the Civil War reconstruction was over in 1877. Racial segregation laws such as the Jim Crow laws stemmed from this. A group of well-to-do blacks in Louisiana decided to challenge one of these laws that separated blacks and whites on rail cars. Homer Plessy, who was only 1/8 black, was selected to do the job.

He was arrested and charged for entering a white’s only car on a train. Under Louisiana state law 1/8 black was still considered black. Plessy argued that segregated facilities violate the Equal Protection Clause in the Constitution, which states that citizens should not have to give up any public rights or access. The state of Louisiana rebutted with the argument that the state is responsible for public safety, and that segregation was the will of the public. The state reasoned that separate but equal facilities would uphold majority (white) public opinion while providing protections required by the 14th Amendment.

Justice Henry B. Brown, a northerner, delivered the 7-1 verdict in favor of the state of Louisiana along with the court’s opinion. He noted that the states segregation laws did not violate the 13th or 14th amendments. Brown exclaimed that legislation...