The U.S. Supreme Court: the highest court in the land. Their job: to decide the constitutionality of cases. But is that what they are really doing? Can we trust that their decisions are just? Two important cases in history can help answer this question. A 1896 U.S. Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson, made facilities and schools separate based on race. In another case in 1954, Brown v. Board of Education, the court reversed its decision and said that separate was not equal. These two cases teach two lessons about the U.S. Supreme Court. Plessy shows that our justice system has failed at times to establish justice. Brown shows that even though the Court rules justly, justice isn’t guaranteed.
Many events led up to Plessy v. Ferguson. For example: after the Congress withdrew federal troops from the South in 1877, conditions for blacks deteriorated. The government pushed blacks into an inferior position. The government took action to prevent blacks from voting immediately.
They embarked poll taxes, “grandfather clauses”. They also segregated on trains, in parks, schools, restaurants, theaters, swimming pools, and even cemeteries. If blacks broke these segregation laws, they were likely to end up either in prison or dead!
The case of Plessy v. Ferguson was a very important case in American History because it enforced segregation even making it legal, and made segregation a concrete reality for the people of the United States. It began with a man called Homer Plessy. Plessy was 7/8 white and only had 1/8 drop of black blood in him, but under Louisiana law, was considered black. In 1890, Louisiana passed a law providing that “all railway companies carrying passengers in their coaches in this state shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races, by providing two or more passenger coaches for each passenger train, or by dividing the passenger coaches by a partition so as to secure separate accommodations.” Plessy believed that the law was unjust and so he challenged the law by refusing to leave the white railroad car. He was arrested and taken to trial. At this trial he argued that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. But he was found guilty. Plessy then appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Louisiana. Again his case was upheld. Plessy appealed again in 1896 to the Supreme Court of the United States. Homer Plessy was found guilty once again. The impact of the court’s decision was a harsh one. It created a reality that was a nightmare to many. Their lives would be changed dramatically. They would officially be separated and considered low down in society.
Plessy v. Ferguson was the law of the land until 1954, when it was finally, successfully overturned by Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954, a little girl named Linda Brown in Topeka, Kansas had to walk 5 miles to school. She didn’t get recess and could not play with any of the other children who were all white. Her parents filed a case to the U.S. Supreme Court saying that there is no way blacks and whites could get equal education if they were separated. The court ruled that separate is not equal.
The amount of time between Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education shows just how long it took to get justice for blacks from the Supreme Court. It amazes me that our government could even question if blacks have the right to justice. It should be basic knowledge for us to know that it is wrong to treat any people so unjustly. Just to prove my point here are some questions you can ask yourself: are blacks human beings just like whites? Do blacks and whites both have feelings and needs? And finally, is the only difference between blacks and whites is that they have a different complexion? I am confused as to why so many people, including Justices on our Supreme Court would not answer yes to all these questions. How could anyone who had any intelligence think it was acceptable to treat blacks differently?
Fortunately the Court did come to its senses in Brown v. Board of Education. Yet just because The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate is not equal it did not mean that blacks were automatically treated equally. After Brown v. Board of Education happened, there needed to be the Civil Rights Movement, in which many people were involved to push society to change. Two people who led the Civil Rights Movement were Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. We must acknowledge that it wasn’t only those people, there were others working and helping the same cause. There were many ways that they impacted The Civil Rights Movement. They gave speeches, wrote letters, led marches, held meetings and many other strategies. They also endured mental and physical hardships. Only through the Civil Rights Movement did the promise of Brown actually get achieved. These people were poor, wealthy, high class, low class, black, some white, short and tall. Basically, there was a wide range of different kinds of people. Not everyone automatically changed their frame of mind when The U.S. Supreme Court ruled separate is not equal. There were still many people out there who were racist and wanted to keep blacks in an inferior position.