History Shows Mistakes Made

By | May 18, 2012

History gives us a great view of the past. And looking back at the past it’s obvious that some things that were considered right and accepted would now be considered way out of our character. There has always been wrong decisions made, even by the Supreme Court. One those was made on May 18, 1896 with their Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

As a result of this case the concept of ‘equal, but separate’ became acceptable by upholding the constitutionality of racial segregation in public accommodations (particularly railroads).

The case began as a result of a Louisiana Law that that required separate but equal accommodations for African Americans and Whites on railroads. The Citizen’s Committee to Test the Separate Car Act was formed by both whites and blacks and they enlisted Homer Plessy, who was 1/8 black, but under Louisiana Law considered black, to get arrested for sitting in the ‘White’ car.

The case was heard by Judge John Howard Ferguson who ruled that Louisiana had the right to regulate railroad companies as long as they operated within state boundaries and therefor not in violation of either the 13th or 14 amendment.

The Supreme Court with a ruling of 7-1, Justice David Josiah Brewer did not hear the case, allowed for the law to stand and made public policy the separation of the two races. Justice John Marshall Harlan was the only one to dissent and he predicted the court’s decision would become infamous. He wrote:

But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. 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.

The Supreme Court overruled the Plessy decision on May 17, 1954 as part of the Brown v. Board of education case. The Brown case was presented to the court by future justice Thurgood Marshall, who was working for the NAACP. Unanimously the Supreme Court ruled that segregation violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.


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