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Tiago Soares Bueno


Larry Schmidt
EAP 105.02
14 July 2014
Landmarks Ruled by Supreme Court and Its Influences
Africans were first brought to America through enslavement and were forced to work
with little food and poor life conditions. Over the years, this type of labor was, theoretically,
abolished, but this link between African Americans and servant work continued for a long time.
Besides that, the feeling that African Americans were an inferior race compared to white
Americans strongly grew in United States. The Supreme Court rulings in Plessy v. Ferguson and
Brown v. Board of Education are landmarks in the landscape of American segregation; the first
one represents the peak of discrimination and the second one shows its fall.
The end of slavery in 1865 did not mean the end of racial discrimination. Even though
they were considered free men now, the population, especially the southerners, couldnt live
together with the African Americans. All paths were attempted to avoid the equality, even the
pure and brutal violence. Examples of this brutality include the Opelousas Massacre, with 200 to
300 blacks dead, the Colfax Massacre, with more than 100 dead, and so many others lynchings
throughout the country between 1884 and 1890 (Davis XVII). It is noteworthy that in the Colfax
Massacre case in the Supreme Court, the responsible for murderer so many blacks werent
prosecuted, since the Court did not want to prosecute white men for violate the rights of African
Americans.
Moreover, the emergence of a character called Jim Crow made things worse for African
Americans. Thomas Daddy Rice, who was a white minstrel, painted his face with black cork

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and started to make shows dancing and singing in a way that derided the blacks, painting them as
an inferior class (Pilgrim). The show became so popular that around 1890 some segregation
habits called Jim Crow laws, were implanted within the American public life and gained legal
support with the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. These laws proposed
that whites and African Americans have to have separate schools, churches, restaurants, cinemas,
bus seats, drinking fountains and many other things. Of course, the facilities dedicated to whites
were much better than the dedicated to blacks. For instance, the white schools had everything of
the best, from buildings to educational materials (Lehman and Phelps 464). With this example,
it becomes clear that the free blacks werent seen as equal citizens in society.
Another example of daily life segregation is the Louisianas Separate Car Act, which
stated that railways cars must [provide] equal but separate accommodations for the white and
colored races (qtd. in Medley). Though it was written equal but separate, the expression that
became very popular and represented the segregation for many years was separate but equal.
One example of how separate but equal was seen in daily life comes from the movie The Help.
The character Hilly, a white woman of the upper crust, insists that her friends build separate
bathrooms for their maids. She even fires her maid, Minny, for using the familys bathroom (The
Help). In a later time in the movie, a scene shows the bathroom dedicated to Aibileen, the maid,
in another house owned by a whites, the Elizabeths family. In this scene its shown that
separate accommodations were built, but the equal part was just a theory, because the
bathroom is too small and uncomfortable.
But the fight for equality between whites and blacks always existed and Homer Adolph
Plessy can be cited as one of those who stood for it. Plessy looked like a white man but was
considered 7/8 white (Reckdahl) in that eras term. Thats one of the reasons why the Citizens

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Committee of New Orleans (Comit de Citoyens) chose him to confront the segregation laws
following a kind of script (Davis 157). He was instructed to buy first-class tickets from New
Orleans to Covington and, ignoring the signs, to sit in the seats reserved for white only. After a
short while, the train departed, and the conductor J. J. Dowling approached and asked if Plessy
was a colored man. With the affirmative answer for the question, Dowling ordered the train to
stop and told him to move to the colored coach. As he refused to go, the private detective
Capitan C. Cain was called, and he warned Plessy to move; otherwise, he would be arrested for
violate the Separate Car Act (Medley). Again, Plessy refused to go and was arrested. All these
events, involving Dowling and detective Cain, had been prearranged by the Committee and
following Plessys arrest, they paid a $500 fine to release him.
There was a debate about the case in the Louisianas State Court and Plessys attorneys
argued that the Separate Car Act had contravened the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments,
which ensured equal rights for black citizens. But it wasnt effective, since the local justice
stated that state governments had the right to regulate railroads within State lines. Then, in a
posterior moment, they appealed the case in Supreme Court, again recalling the Amendments
and, as a new argument, questioning the definition of race, whereas Homer Plessy seemed like a
white man, with only one African ancestor (Davis 165). The committee had made their point:
they confronted the segregation laws and rose a discussion about the definition of white and
black races. However, the arguments were dismissed by the Supreme Court, they did not see the
Separate Car Act as a threat to equality or a law that could reestablish involuntary servitude. The
Court also pointed out the existence of segregated schools and some laws that prohibited the
interracial marriage (Medley). This granted to the states the right to segregate based on race and
to define each race.

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Clearly, the decision of the highest instance of justice, the Supreme Court, was favorable
to segregation, so the separate but equal behavior and the Jim Crow laws for segregation got
even stronger and were considered constitutional. What came after was a rough and long period
for African Americans, where they could be, for instance, beaten simply for eating in the same
place as whites and the law would support this barbarism. Another sad truth is that everything
dedicated to blacks was extremely precarious, the schools are good examples. The books used
for the black children were usually second handed, the facilities were smaller, and the black
teachers even had a smaller wage compared to white teachers. In other words, legislation made
things separate, [but] the equal treatment of the Supreme Court ruling seldom materialized
(Medley). This means that many times the equality in separate but equal was just in theory.
At Plessys time, the Civil Rights defenders had lost one battle for equality, but not the
entire war. Some people still believed that separate facilities could not be equal, since it made the
African Americans stay in a lower level in society. For this reason, some blacks scholars like W.
E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells and William M. Trotter in association with their white colleagues
like Mary White Ovington and Oswald G. Villard, founded in 1909 the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (Martin 7). This organization was founded in
defense of racial equality and soon became a symbol of the fight for civil rights to black citizens.
Due this organization and the efforts of their members, the end of separate but equal era, once
legitimized by the Supreme Court ruling, had approached.
Charles Hamilton Huston, in association with Thurgood Marshall, traced a strategy to
bring down the Jim Crow laws, starting in the field of education. What is nowadays known as
Brown v. Board of Education was, actually, five separate cases handled by Thurgood Marshall
that lost in lower level courts and appealed to Supreme Court (History of Brown). The main

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idea in all cases was to confront the color line that separated school facilities for blacks and
whites. As done before by Plessys attorneys, Marshall used the Fourteenth Amendment to base
his arguments, stating that separate schools were inherently unequal (The History of Brown).
In addition, he presented some sociological tests that had provided evidences of an inferiority
feeling in black children related to white ones, which could represent a damage in their learning
(The History of Brown). Following the discussion of the case in Supreme Court, the justices
needed an extra time to take a decision, since they couldnt all agree with the same verdict.
So, in December 1953, after rehearing the case, the Supreme Court justices overturned
the Plessy v. Ferguson verdict and declared that in the field of public education the doctrine of
separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" (qtd.
in History of Brown). This sentence is memorable for many reasons: first, it was the first
Supreme Courts unanimous decision; second, the mistake made by them in Plessy v. Ferguson,
in which the separate but equal had received legal support, was fixed; and third, the case
represented the beginning of racial segregations fall and the strengthening of the Civil Rights
Movement, because after this episode, the unconstitutionality of separate facilities for people of
different skin colors reached other spheres like buses, restaurants, and theaters. Brown v. Board
of Education was the first major step forward for the Civil Rights Movement.
Under those circumstances, one clearly see that rulings made by the Supreme Court had a
direct influence on how American society was brought up and in how African Americans had
been seen over the time. When the Supreme Court declared the separate but equal doctrine
constitutional in Plessy v. Ferguson, the racial discrimination beneath the Jim Crow laws got
consolidated, and the violent methods used by whites to enforce it were treated as normal by
local police and court. It took a long time for this situation to change, but the upholders of the

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equality among American citizens did not give up their fight. It can be seen in Brown v. Board of
Education, where a constant NAACPs fight, led by Thurgood Marshall, could overturn the
racial segregation on the public educational system. This last episode had a great importance for
the Civil Rights Movement, since the desegregation in schools was just the beginning. Step by
Step the wave of desegregation gained force and extended to other areas, culminating in the
victory of Martin Luther King Jr. in association with the NAACP for the integration of African
Americans in the society.

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Works Cited
Davis, Thomas J. Plessy V. Ferguson. Santa Barbara: Greenwood. 2012. Print.
History of Brown v. Board of Education. United States Courts. US Courts, n.d. Web. 22 July
2014.
Lehman, Jeffrey, and Shirelle Phelps, eds. Jim Crow Laws. West's Encyclopedia of American
Law. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2005. SLU Libraries Catalog. Web. 16 July 2014.
Medley, Keith Weldon. "The Sad Story Of How `Separate But Equal' Was Born." Smithsonian
24.11 (Feb. 1994): 104. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 16 July 2014.
Martin, Waldo E. Brown V. Board Of Education: A Brief History With Documents. Ed. Waldo E.
Martin, Jr. Boston: Bedford, 1998. Print.
Pilgrim, David. Who Was Jim Crow? Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. Ferris State
University, 2012. Web. 20 July 2014.
Reckdahl, Katy. Plessy and Ferguson unveil plaque today marking their ancestors' Actions.
The Times-Picayune. The Times-Picayune, 6 Oct. 2009. Web. 17 July 2014.
The Help. Dir. Tate Tylor. Perf. Emma Stone, Viola Davis, and Octavia Spencer. Dreamworks,
2011. Film.