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Historical overviews of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s inevitably focus on certain well-known events: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott; the forced integration of Little Rock’s Central High School; the desegregation drive in Birmingham in 1963; and other important episodes. This chapter will focus instead on the legal ramifications of the civil rights movement, which are less widely known but have proven perhaps just as significant.

Claudette Colvin Quotes

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The landmark 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson introduced into the American legal vernacular the famous “separate but equal” doctrine. According to that ruling, the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement that the state extend to all citizens the equal protection of the laws did not require that whites and blacks be permitted to use the same facilities. As long as separate facilities for whites and blacks were equal, then the state would be in compliance with the demands of the Fourteenth Amendment.

This was the judicial precedent that the Supreme Court had to reckon with when reaching its decision on school desegregation in 1954. The justices were obviously anxious to declare segregated schooling, which existed by law throughout the South, to be unconstitutional. But the Court could not simply argue that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause prohibited segregated schools, since 1) the Court had ruled in Plessy that it did not, and 2) the same Congress that drafted and passed the Fourteenth Amendment had also approved segregated schooling in the District of Columbia. If anyone should know the intent of the amendment, it would be those who had voted on it. Another line of argument would have to be pursued.

Cite This Article
"“Separate But Equal”: The 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson Case" History on the Net
© 2000-2024, Salem Media.
June 16, 2024 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/plessy-vs-ferguson-case>
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