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Plessy vs. Ferguson Case

Grover Cleveland

Plessy vs. Ferguson Case: Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th American President who served in office from March 4, 1885 to March 4, 1889 and from March 4, 1893 - March 4,1897. One of the important legal events during this era was the Plessy vs. Ferguson case.

Definition and Summary of the Plessy vs. Ferguson Case
Summary and definition:
The 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson case was extremely important. It was a legal case in which the  Supreme Court decided that "separate but equal" facilities satisfied the guarantees of 14th Amendment, thus giving legal sanction to "Jim Crow" segregation laws.

The namesakes of the Plessy v. Ferguson case were the plaintiff Homer Adolph Plessy (1862 1925) and the defendant Judge John H. Ferguson (1838 - 1915) of the Criminal Court for New Orleans. In 1954, the Supreme Court justices in Brown v. the Board of Education reversed the decision made in the Plessy case by making the decision that legally sanctioned racial segregation was inherently unequal and a violation of the 14th Amendment.

Facts about Plessy vs. Ferguson Case
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Plessy vs. Ferguson Case.

In 1890 the Louisiana State Legislature passed the Separate Car Act, a law that required "equal, but separate" train car accommodations for Black and White people.

The Separate Car Act was one of the 'Jim Crow Laws' enacted by Southern states, beginning in the 1880s, that legalized segregation between Black Americans and White Americans

The 'Jim Crow Laws' had replaced the infamous Black Codes, which had restricted the civil rights and civil liberties of freed slaves with no pretense of equality during the Reconstruction Era.

The phrase "Separate but equal" was a legal doctrine in U. S. constitutional law that justified and permitted racial segregation.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution asserted that there were equal protection rights of all US citizens, including those that were part of a minority group

Although the Constitutional doctrine required equality, the facilities offered to African-Americans were almost always of lower quality than those offered to white Americans

In 1891 a group of activists in New Orleans established a black civil rights organization called the 'Citizens Committee' to test whether the Separate Car Law  with its "Separate but equal" statement was constitutional.

A 30-year-old shoemaker and activist called Homer Adolf Plessy agreed to test the law.

Who was Homer Adolf Plessy? Homer Plessy (1862 1925) was a a light-skinned 'Creole of Color', a term used to refer to black people in New Orleans of French, Spanish, and Caribbean descent. He described himself as "seven-eighths Caucasian and one-eighth African blood" and he could easily pass a white.

On June 7, 1892 Homer Plessy bought a first-class ticket to travel interstate from New Orleans to Covington on the East Louisiana Railroad.

He boarded the "white carriage" and told the conductor that he was black. The conductor told him to move to the appropriate car, which he refused to do. He stated that he was an American citizen, had paid for a first-class ticket, and that he intended to ride in the first-class car. The conductor stopped the train and alerted the police.

Detective Christopher Cain boarded the train and arrested Homer who was forced off the train and taken to jail

The next day, June 8, 1892, he appeared in criminal court before Judge John Howard Ferguson (1838 - 1915) to answer charges of violating the Separate Car Act.

Judge John Howard Ferguson ruled that Louisiana was free to regulate such actions and that Homer Plessy was guilty as charged

Homer Plessy contended that the Separate Car Act law violated the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) and 14th Amendment (equal protection of the laws) and petitioned a writ of prohibition to the Louisiana state Supreme Court against Judge Ferguson.

The Plessy vs. Ferguson case was upheld by the Louisiana state Supreme Court and an appeal was made to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruling that followed on May 18, 1896, bore the names of Plessy and Ferguson (Plessy v. Ferguson)

The Supreme Court decision upheld the Separate Car Act, holding that the law violated neither the 13th Amendment because it did not re-impose slavery, nor the 14th Amendment, because it dealt with political and not social equality

Justice Henry Billings Brown (1836 - 1913), an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1891 - 1906, expressed his opinion of the case stating that "separate but equal" laws did not imply the inferiority of one race to another.

Justice John Marshall Harlan (1833 - 1911) was the lone dissenter in the case, advocating for equality among those of different races and for a color-blind Constitution.

After the Supreme Court decision, Homer Plessy reported to the court of Judge Ferguson to answer the charge of violating the Separate Car Act. He changed his plea to guilty and paid the $25 fine.

The impact of the Supreme Court decision was highly significant as it provided the constitutional sanction for the adoption throughout the South of a comprehensive series of Jim Crow laws and policies fought by the Niagara Movement and the NAACP.

Private organizations and businesses, such as hotels, theaters, and railroads, were free to practice Racial Segregation.

In 1954, the Supreme Court justices, in Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case reversed the decision made in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case in that the decision that legally sanctioned racial segregation was inherently unequal and a violation of the 14th Amendment.

US American History
1881-1913: Maturation Era

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