As Americans we have been struggling since the beginning of time to fight for what is right in our society. After the Civil War many Southern states were determined to try and limit the rights of former slaves. One of the biggest fears in society was the mixing of the races, this was something the white people vowed to stop. The government succeeded by using the segregation laws, such as the one passed by Florida in 1887, which required railroads operating in the state or passing through the state to house black passengers in separate cars from the whites. It was soon after this that separate car laws were in forced in most of the South.

A group of New Orleans black businessmen decided to fight these laws along with railroads who were also against the law. The group decided to test the case, and a black man by the name of Homer Plessy volunteered to break the law. Plessy boarded a East Louisiana railroad train in New Orleans and took a seat in a white-only car. He was asked to move and refused. He was then arrested and brought before New Orleans Parish Judge John Ferguson. Plessy and his attorney argued that the separate car laws violated his civil rights. Ferguson found Plessy guilty and he was charged with a twenty-five dollar fine.

However, this case was far from over, it went to the Supreme Court and the law of separate cars was quickly found constitutional. The Court ruled that "separate but equal facilities" was proper under the 14th Amendment. After the case was argued twice and almost two years later the court ruled 8-1 that Louisiana was correct.

On May 16, 1896, Brown wrote the majority opinion; Harlan dissented. A state law requiring trains to provide separate but equal facilities for black and white passengers does not infringe upon federal authority to regulate interstate commerce nor is it in violation of the 13th or 14th Amendments. The train was local; a legal distinction between the two races did not destroy the legal equality of the two races guaranteed by the 13th Amendment and the 14th Amendment protected only political, not social, equality, the majority said.

John Marshall declared that the "Constitution is color blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens." "Separate but Equal" remained the law of the land for fifty-eight years, until 1954 when the Court held in Brown v. Board of Education that separate is "inherently unequal."


Wagman, Robert J. The Supreme Court. Pharos Books 1993.

Witt, Elder. Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. Congressional quartly Inc. 1979.

Prepared by Tamara L. Ort