Equality in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mocking Bird
Length: 1181 words (3.4 double-spaced pages)
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To Kill a Mockingbird - Equality
Since the Civil War civil rights of African Americans, as they are called now, were being fought over and disputed. During the Reconstruction era which followed the death of Lincoln, Blacks possessed the same rights and privileges as the whites. "But with the return of white man's government to the southern states, the blacks suffered under unfair rights and privileges compared to whites; (World 357). On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy, a 30-year old shoemaker was put in jail for sitting in the "White" car of an east Louisiana Railroad train. Although Plessy was only one-eighth black, he was still required to sit in the colored car according to Louisiana state law. When segregation occurred in private places no constitutional issue could be raised. However, when segregation was required by law there was a question of whether it clashed with the fourteenth amendment of the constitution" (World p.356). Although Homer Plessy was found guilty, this monumental court case made the law of segregation so that it could be "separate but equal". It changed the United States of America forever, and was a big step in the path to end Racism.
Segregation in itself is an issue of legality, but this case especially was an unfair One. When segregation was the law it was brought up in the courts because segregation itself may clash with the fourteenth amendment, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside" (Compton's 6). This amendment states that all people born or naturalized in the USA are citizens. This would mean that Blacks are citizens and have just as many rights as any other citizen, but white lawyers and court officials found ways around this. They said that being a citizen doesn't have anything to do with equal rights between different races (Tourolaw). "The judge at the trial was John Howard Ferguson, a lawyer from Massachusetts who had previously declared the Separate Car Act `unconstitutional on trains that traveled through several states'. In Plessy's case, however, he decided that the state could choose to regulate railroad companies that operated only within Louisiana" (Virtualscholar1 1).
Most of the whites southern states, however, were unfair to blacks and segregated whenever they could. After Plessy was found guilty he appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, which kept Ferguson's decision. He then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States who found Plessy guilty once again. Speaking for an eight person majority Justice Henry Brown wrote, "That the [Separate Car Act] does not conflict which the thirteenth amendment which abolished slavery...The object of the fourteenth amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races,...it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color" (Tourolaw 1). In the time of this case this Would have proved that Plessy is guilty but definitely not in the year 2001 . Although Plessy was found guilty the case his court case impacted the law so as to change segregation to "Separate but Equal". The Plessy vs. Ferguson case had a big impact on American society ever since it occurred. In the early 1900's "Separate but Equal" affected the daily life of everyone.
"The Separate but Equal doctrine quickly extended to cover many areas of public life, such as: restaurants, theaters, restrooms and public schools" (Virtualscholar1 1). This shows that still after all the hardships that blacks faced in the early 1900's, at least the segregation was equal. In the book To Kill a Mockingbird it gives an example of how the law was separate but equal in the court scene, when the blacks got a separate but just as good seating area (Lee). This shows that even though the jury was prejudiced against Tom Robinson in the court at least the segregation was Separate but Equal. There are also many other examples of when the law is "Separate but Equal". "In the case of Selma Parks in 1955 Rosa is sitting in the black section which was just as good as the white section. The only reason she got arrested was because all the white seats were taken up and she wouldn't give up her seat to a white man" (Virtualscholar2 1). Although it was unfair that she had to give up her seat, at least the black seats were as good as the white section seats. All these examples are example when Separate but Equal was followed, it wasn't always like that.
Most of the time the law was followed, but a lot of times it was not . A good example is sixty years later when Rosa Parks is arrested for not letting a white man sit in her seat. "In between which was really part of the black section served as an overflow zone for whites when all the seats in the white section are filled. If the white section was full then blacks had to give up their seats" (Virtualscholar2 1). The blacks were always the ones who had to suffer when wasn't enough of something. Another instance when this law of equality is not followed in the book To Kill a Mockingbird, when it says that the black lived in another section of town. ("Lee") This section of town can be called the slum, a much worse and poorer part of town. This example was especially in affect during the depression when the black communities were hit harder. The government should have given money to help these poorer communities. "Sixty-four years after the Plessy vs. Ferguson case, in the Brown vs. Board of Education case, the Separate but Equal doctrine was struck down yet again" (Vitualscholar1). This shows that even sixty-four years later, a time very close to the Civil Rights Act the rule of Separate but Equal is still broken.
Overall the Plessy vs. Ferguson case has had our nation tremendously impacted, but has just been followed the same way as any other law, and sometimes it was broken.. Although this essay brought quotes from both sides of "did Plessy vs. Ferguson impact the nation?," Most of the stories are only written when the rule is not followed, but really the rule was followed more than it wasn't followed. So the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson really had a very prodigious impact on the United States of America. Although if Homer Plessy was tried in court now then he would surely be innocent, but overall he got a fair trial for his days in 1892. The blacks had a very tough early 20th century but their future looks very bright, and there is definitely not much racism now in the 21st century.
1. http://www.virtualscholar.com/cr/cr2.html 11/10/01 "Virtualscholar1" 11/18/01
2. http://www.virtualscholar.com/cr/cr3.html 11/10/01 "Virtualscholar2" 11/18/01
3. http://www.virtualscholar.com/cr/cr15.html 11/10/01 11/18/01
4. http://www.tourolaw.edu/patch/Plessy/ 11/10/01
5. Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia Deluxe (c) 1999 The Learning Company, Inc.
6. World Book 1996 Random, New York, NY
7. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Warner Books, 1960, New York, NY