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Giuliana Hejtmanek

Mr. Williams
Honors American Literature
February 19, 2015
Plessy v. Ferguson
In 1865, slavery was terminated and outlawed through the ratification of the 13th
Amendment (“13th Amendment”) 1. Three years later in 1868, The 14th Amendment was passed,
granting full citizenship, “equal protection of the laws,” and forbidding states from denying "life,
liberty or property, without due process of law” to all persons born in the United States, former
slaves and people of color included (“14th Amendment”) 2. And 1877, the 15th amendment
granted suffrage to all men of color, prohibiting race from interfering with one’s right to vote
(“15th Amendment”) 3. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1900s, after a series of lawsuits initiated
by citizens who saw a need for change, that these amendments would be enforced and people of
color would truly be granted their rights.
Various different statues and ordinances known as “Jim Crow Laws” separated people of
color from Caucasians for many years. Separate bathrooms, parks, beaches, restaurants, hair
dressers, train cars, and even water fountains - all claiming to act under a principal of “separate
but equal -” with the one designated for colored people being, predominantly, inferior. In 1892,
the Citizen’s Committee of New Orleans, decided to challenge the constitutionality of these laws
(O’Malley) 4. Citizen’s Committee recruited Homer Plessy to take part in a plan designed to
outlaw segregation. As part of the plan- Plessy, a man 7 parts white and 1 part black, violated the
Separate Cars law by sitting in a “white” train car, despite his black ancestry. Following the

arrest, Plessy was brought up to Judge John H. Ferguson. Albion Tourgée, Plessy’s lawyer, hoped
to prove the absurdity of Jim Crow laws, by pointing out Plessy’s background (O’Malley) 4.
Plessy was neither white nor black- he was mixed. How could one separate black and white,
when people were often both? Tourgée then argued that Jim Crow laws were a violation of the
13th and 14th amendments, thus unconstitutional, but Ferguson ruled against him. Subsequently,
Plessy petitioned for a writ of error and was given the opportunity to appeal his case to the
Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the court ended up ruling Plessy’s constitutional rights unviolated
and determined that segregation was “merely a legal distinction” between races that didn’t
violate the 13th and 14th amendments (Justice Henry Brown) 5. In 1896, the Supreme Court
upheld state law 7 to 1, consequently reinforcing the constitutionality of Jim Crow laws (“Plessy
vs. Ferguson”) 6. Though tragic, this verdict would incite a chain of lawsuits that would
ultimately result in the ratification of the Civil Rights act of 1964.
Brown v. Board of Education was a series of lawsuits that challenged and overturned the
“separate but equal” provisions of the Plessy v. Ferguson. These lawsuits desegregated the
United States and ultimately lead to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, finally granting
African Americans and all people of color their full civil rights. Were it not for the initiative
taken by the Citizen’s Committee of New Orleans and Homer Plessy in 1892, the likeliness of
Brown v. Board of Education ever occurring diminishes. The action taken by Plessy and the
Committee brought attention to the issue of segregation, inspired those who felt wronged to
incite change, and the tragic verdict served only as a fuel to the already blazing need for equality.
For this, I feel that the Plessy v. Ferguson case was one of the most influential court cases in the
Civil Rights movement.

Works Cited
"13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution” Primary Documents of American History
(Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress). N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. 1
"14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution” Primary Documents of American History
(Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress). N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. 2
"15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution” Primary Documents of American History
(Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress). N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. 3
O'Malley, Michael. "Jim Crow and the 1890s." A Blood Red Record: The 1890s and
American Apartheid. N.p., 1999. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. 4
Plessy v. Ferguson. Supreme Court. Apr.-May 1896. Legal Information Institute. Cornell
University Law School, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015. 5
"Plessy vs. Ferguson." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
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