“There was only one dissenting voice-that of Justice Harlan; and thus is removed the hope of the Negro to be allowed to mix freely, while in transit from place to place, with the Caucasian” (The Weekly Messenger). In those days when blacks were segregated from whites, both races were not to be mixed together mostly anywhere in the public. This court case, Plessy v. Ferguson, is one of the most symbolic example of segregation in the Southern part of U.S that happened. This court case, which held in 1896, established what people called “Jim Crow” laws. This court case showed how people justified all the segregation, and racism that happened in U.S during 1890s.
Plessy, who was arrested because he sat in a train’s coach that was only for whites, argued mainly two points in the court. One of them for example, was “the constitutionality of this act is attacked upon the ground that it conflicts both with the thirteenth amendment of the constitution, abolishing slavery..” (ourdocuments). Thirteenth Amendment states the abolishment of slavery all throughout the U.S. Although this might not be direct slavery, Plessy argued that it included involuntary act. Also, separating people according to their race was a part of slavery, which was caused due to stereotype that white race is superior to black race. The court’s decision was “that it does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except a punishment for crime, is too clear for argument” (ourdocuments). Court’s rule was that slavery’s definition was too specific in the Thirteenth Amendment that the separation between races in the coaches was not a case of violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. Court’s saying that the absence of bondage, ownership of mankind, or at least forced labor and services for one man’s benefit in this case didn’t make this case violate the Thirteenth Amendment. The definitions interpreted by the court was all helping the railroad company.
From today’s view, arrestment of Plessy is not morally right, but in those days, people had their own views and reasons to segregate people due to their race. Another argument that Plessy suggested was “the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits certain restrictive legislation on the part of the states” (ourdocuments). Fourteenth Amendment was made to enforce equality which was logical that this law of segregation should be abolished too. The problem was how the court was going to define this amendment. Court’s decision was “if the law stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority, it is because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it” (casebriefs). The court ruled that the state had its right to exercise its police powers on this matter because it didn’t violate the Fourteenth Amendment. They ruled that it also didn’t violate it because this law was enacted for good, for the promotion of public good and not for the annoyance of another race. Fourteenth Amendment was surely a case for abolition of this state law, but through the court’s interpretation, the segregation was justified.
“The white race deems itself to be the dominant race, but the Constitution recognizes no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens” (history) is a quote written by the lone dissenter of this case, Justice Harlan. He managed to point out the fact that blacks are getting treated unequally. The segregation of blacks and whites were just for whites benefits, and in the Southern U.S, white people still had stereotypes about black people. The court decision over segregation did not change until Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954.
History.com Staff. “Plessy v. Ferguson.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/plessy-v-ferguson. Accessed 23 Apr. 2017.
Newschoolcreation. “Plessy V. Ferguson.” YouTube, YouTube, 8 Jan. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=slDT-ac8Ft4. Accessed 23 Apr. 2017.
“Plessy v. Ferguson.” Casebriefs Plessy v Ferguson Comments, CaseBriefs, www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/constitutional-law/constitutional-law-keyed-to-stone/equality-and-the-constitution/plessy-v-ferguson-3/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2017.
“Plessy v. Ferguson.” Civil Rights or Civil Liberties Supreme Court Cases: supremecrtcases.weebly.com/plessy-v-ferguson.html. Accessed 23 Apr. 2017.
“Transcript of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).” Our Documents - Transcript of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Ourdocuments, www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=52&page=transcript. Accessed 23 Apr. 2017.
“The Weekly Messenger. (St. Martinsville [I.e. St. Martinville] La.) 1886-1948, May 23, 1896, Image 1.” News about Chronicling America RSS, Eastin & Bienvenu, chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88064454/1896-05-23/ed-1/seq-1/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2017.
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