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Plessy V. Ferguson

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Plessy v. Ferguson

Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as saying "As a race... the [blacks] are altogether inferior to the whites... [And] can never rise to a very high place" (In their own words: A History of the American Negro). The ruling of the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896 proved that the Supreme Court agreed with the above statement. That court case changed the forward direction that the Reconstruction was having. The setting for this case was already tense as it was.

In 1878, the Supreme Court ruling in Hall v. DeCuir, said that state legislatures could not stop segregation on common carriers, such as trains. Segregation was not a problem until 1877, when Congress decided to pull federal troops out of the South. In 1890, the Williams v. Mississippi case showed that the segregation laws that Mississippi had were not unconstitutional. This moved other Southern states to act the same. In the same year, Louisiana passed a bill that stated that separate but equal laws placed on trains were lawful and violators would be charged with a fine of $25 of twenty days in jail. This too remained calm until someone tried to test the law.

On June 7, 1892, Homer Adolph Plessy (1862-1925), a shoemaker, bought a first-class ticket on the behalf of a citizens committee determined to test the law. Plessy was the perfect candidate; he was a mulatto with only one-eighth of black blood in his body. The last black person in his family line was his great-grandmother. Plessy took a seat in the "White only" section and when the conductor challenged him, admitted that he was indeed black according to the "one-drop" rule. The "one-drop" rule was a rule stating that if a person had one drop of black blood in them from up to five generations back, then he or she was indeed black in the South. The conductor ordered Plessy to the "Colored only" section but Plessy refused to move. The police were called and Detective Chris Cain arrested Plessy and took him to a nearby New Orleans jail.

Judge John Howard Ferguson of the District Court of Orleans Parish found Plessy guilty and sentenced him accordingly. Judge Ferguson, although had ruled against the segregation law when it came to interstate carriers, ruled for it because the train was owned and operated by the state of Louisiana. Plessy appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court but was found guilty by them also. Plessy then appealed to the United States Supreme Court but due to the large number of cases being heard, had to wait almost four years to be summoned.

On April 13, 1896, Plessy was heard before the justices of the Court. Plessy's main argument was that the Fourteenth Amendment had been broken by the Segregation law in Louisiana. The state replied to these accusations by saying that their laws were only making a distinction between whites and blacks but were not treating one worse than the other. After about a month of deliberation, on may 18, 1896 the Supreme Court came to a 7-1 decision in the favor of the state. One justice dissented while one did not participate.

Chief Justice Henry B. Brown said that Plessy wasn't being treated unfairly of being forced to be a slave. Brown stated that the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment "could not have intended to abolish distinction among color or to force social equality". Brown also commented that "if the two races are to meet upon terms of equality, it must be the result of voluntary consent" these statements signified the Supreme Court's approval of the "separate but equal concept". Justice Brown was also a social elitist and held prejudice towards many including Jews, women, immigrants, and blacks. This prejudice influenced many of his cases

Justice John Marshall Harlan was the



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