Segregation, in the dictionary, is defined as the act or process of being separated from others of the same kind (Webster 1058). In United States history, the segregation of blacks and whites has been a major issue. The Supreme Court records are filled with many cases dealing with issues of race, discrimination, and segregation. Two of these cases stand out among the rest. Their controversy was common but their rulings were great steps in the fight to end one of the United States’ greatest internal problems.
In the year 1892 Plessy, a Louisiana citizen, was ordered to exit the white section of the train he was boarding. Plessy was seven eight’s Caucasian and one eighth African. He was arrested and convicted of violating a Louisiana State statue. This statute from July 10, 1890 required separate accommodations for whites and colored people within the railway system (Bartholomew 258). Plessy appealed his case to the Supreme Court. The entire case revolved around the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments and the “equal but separate” issue. In the year 1896, a 7-1 decision was handed down by Mr.Justice Brown stating that separate but equal and segregation of railways for blacks and whites was constitutional (Zirkel 76-77). And so the path was set for the nation; U.S. law now accepted segregation.
In the fall of 1952, approximately eighty years later, the Supreme Court found on its dockets four cases concerning the rights of Negro minors and their education. The cases came from four separate states: Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. The Kansas case became the formal case and all four cases were decided under Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In each case a black minor was seeking judicial assistance in attending the public school within his or her community on a non segregated basis.
In December of that same year the cases were argued together. On June 8, 1853 the court restored the cases back to the docket with the intent of rearmament a few months later. The case was left off with two points to focus on, both in question form. The first question was “Is there historical evidence which shows the intentions of those who framed and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment upon racial segregation in public schools?” The second question was, “If the court finds the racial segregation violates the Fourteenth Amendment what kind of decree could and should be issued to bring about an end of segregation?” (Cushman 252). When the case was reargued in December 1953, all of the briefs revolved around the exploration of the Fourteenth Amendment. Two conflicting briefs came from the Attorney General and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Attorney General had many suggestions on ways to limit and gradually eliminate segregation. The NAACP, on the other hand, held the view that segregation should be ended completely and immediately.
On May 17, 1954, after months of briefing and arguing, a 9-0 ruling was passed down by Mr. Chief Justice Warren (Bartholomew 47). The ruling stated that “students cannot be discriminated against in their admittance to the public schools on the basis of race” (Zirkel 80). This ruling was based on the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee that all students have equal protection laws. The court also decided that segregation deprives minority students the right of equal education opportunities even if the facilities and other palpable factors are of equality. This ruling reversed the major ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.
It seems that with every case and every ruling concerning the issues of discrimination and segregation our nation takes steps towards peace and equality. Whether the steps are large or small, they are all of the same importance. When Brown v. Board of Education was returned to the Supreme Court in 1955, the ruling was to return all four cases back to their federal courts so that the responsibility of carrying out the ruling of Brown 1 would be laid upon the communities. The ruling of Brown 1 was a large step in the nation’s battle against segregation. Brown 2’s result was slow, small steps towards equality. Even though it would take longer, this ruling has proved to have been just as effective as segregation is hardly existent today.
The ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson was considered appropriate for the times and considered outdated during the 1950’s segregation cases. Until our nation realizes that segregation and discrimination of any kind is wrong despite the year, the United States will be blemished by this problem.
In December of 1959 the General Assembly of the United Nations put forth this statement: “…Oh no grounds can education on racial bias be justified.” (Brickman 11) This statement is one of power and strength, qualities that are essential in taking an effective stand against discrimination. While Plessy v. Ferguson set a pace for our nations tolerance of discrimination, Brown v. Board of Education’s ruling simply re-routed that pace. That new route was the highway towards peace and equality.
Bartholomew, Paul C. Summaries of Leading Cases on the Constitution.
New Jersey. Littlefield, Adams, and Co. 1974. Pages 46-47, 258-
Brickman, William W., and Stanley Lehrer. Eds. The Countdown On
Education. 1960. Pages 7, 11, 40.
Appleton-Century-Crofts. 1963. Pages 251-252.
“Segregation.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 10th ed. 1999.
Zirkel, Perry A. A Digest of Supreme Court Decisions Affecting Education.
Indiana. Phi Delta Kappa. 1978. Pages 76-77, 80-82.