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Analysis of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

On June 7, 18 a man named Homer Adolph Plessy was arrested and jailed for refusing to leave the “White” section of an East Louisiana Railroad train. Although Plessy was only one-eighths black, under Louisiana law he was considered black and, therefore, required to sit in the “Colored” section. The punishment for breaking this law, the Separate Car Act, was a fine of twenty-five dollars or twenty days in jail. Plessy went to court and argued, in Homer Adolph Plessy v. The State of Louisiana, that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. The judge hearing the case was John Howard Ferguson, who had recently ruled that the Separate Car Act was unconstitutional if the train was traveling through different states. However, in Plessy’s case, he decided that the state had the right to segregate the trains that operated in Louisiana only. Therefore, Plessy was found guilty. He, then, appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, which upheld Ferguson’s decision. In 186, the Supreme Court of the United States heard the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. Once again, Ferguson’s decision was upheld and Plessy was found guilty. The Supreme Court decided that the Separate Car Act did not violate the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. This was too obvious for argument. They, also, decided that it did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, which made the two races absolutely equal in the eyes of the law. It was decided that there was no violation of the constitution to separate the two races as long as they were equal (Cozzens). An eight-person majority decided the case, and the only Judge to disagree was Justice John Harlan who seemed to predict the future when he wrote

Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law...In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott case...(Cozzens).

The separate but equal doctrine was quickly extended to cover many areas of public life, such as restaurants, theaters, restrooms, and public schools. For sixty-four more years the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson set a powerful precedent and provided a strong basis for other judicial decisions that upheld segregation laws. Finally, in 154, the United States Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Cozzens). The question stands why did the Supreme Court reverse its outlook after sixty-four years?

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After the Civil War ended in 1865, the south was in chaos both economically and politically. The Reconstruction era that followed was a time of turmoil between the Radical Republicans and President Andrew Johnson. Both sides wanted to be able to deal with the South as they saw fit. The most complicated, and argued, issue of that time was what to do with the recently freed African Americans. Three amendments were soon added to the constitution, giving the slaves freedom, citizenship, the Bill of Rights and, for men, the right to vote.

Eventually, by the nineteenth century white political control had returned to the South. The Jim Crow laws segregated virtually every public place in the South. The uprising of the Ku Klux Klan, a secrete organization of whites who are against colored people, had most southern African Americans living in constant fear. Furthermore, by the late 1800s most people, living in the North or West, stopped paying as much attention to the ongoing problems that southern blacks faced.

Southern blacks began to steadily move to the bigger cities in the North, and by 10 a million and a half African Americans resided in northern Africa

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