Plessy v. Ferguson , a very important case of 1896 in which the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the legality of racial segregation. At the time of the ruling, segregation between blacks and whites already existed in most schools, restaurants, and other public facilities in the American South. In the Plessy decision, the Supreme Court ruled that such segregation did not violate the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. This amendment provides equal protection of the law to all U.S. citizens, regardless of race. The court ruled in Plessy that racial segregation was legal as long as the separate facilities for blacks and whites were “equal.”
This “separate but equal” doctrine, as it came to be known, was only partially implemented after the decision. Railroad cars, schools, and other public facilities in the South were made separate, but they were rarely made equal.
Immediately after the American Civil War ended in April 1865 the Southern states began to segregate blacks from whites in schools and other public facilities. Reconstruction, a period of rebuilding in the American South that lasted from the end of 1865 to 1877, put a temporary stop to these policies in some places. Blacks had won enough political power in the South during Reconstruction to prevent the passage of legislation designed to deny them access to public facilities. Also, after the Civil War the national government remained committed to upholding at least some degree of racial fairness.
However, even during Reconstruction, most Southern schools were segregated and blacks were often forced to use inadequate public facilities.
After 1877 whites gained greater political control and eventually total po...
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...olored People (NAACP), a civil rights organization dedicated to fighting racial segregation. Most whites in the North ignored the plight of Southern blacks in the wake of Plessy, while most Southern whites used the decision to justify racial discrimination.
Nearly 60 years passed before the Supreme Court ruled, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka , that the “separate but equal” doctrine had no place in public education. Two years later, in Gayle v. Browder , the Supreme Court struck down segregation in public transportation—the same kind of segregation upheld in Plessy. By then the South had built a social and legal system deeply rooted in racial segregation. It took numerous lawsuits, much federal legislation, and a concerted effort of civil rights protesters in the 1950s and 1960s to finally dismantle the system of segregation upheld by the Plessy ruling.
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