The Supreme Court
3. What arguments or potential conse-
quences did the Court fail to consider
in this decision?
4. How did the Court’s decision-making
process differ in Brown v. Board of
Education of Topeka?
Name ___________________________ Class _____________________ Date _______
After Reconstruction, many Southern states passed laws to enforce racial segregation.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, upheld a Louisiana law
segregating railroad passengers by race, thereby establishing the concept of “separate
but equal” accommodations for black and white Americans. The Supreme Court
later reversed this decision in the case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954. In
the later decision, the Court ruled that separate facilities were inherently unequal
and, therefore, violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
Read the excerpt below, which is taken from the Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.
Then, on a separate sheet of paper, answer the questions that follow.
“. . . That [the Louisiana law] does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment,
which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for
crime, is too clear for argument. . . .
“A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored
races—a distinction which is founded in the color of the two races and which must
always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color—
has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races, or reestablish a
state of involuntary servitude. . . .
“. . . as a conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment is concerned, . . . [the state of
Louisiana] is at liberty to act with reference to the established usages, customs,
and traditions of the people, and with a view to the promotion of their comfort and
the preservation of the public peace and good order. Gauged by this standard, we
cannot say that a law which authorizes or even requires the separation of the two
races in public conveyances is unreasonable. . .
“We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the
assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race
with a badge of inferiority. . . . The argument also assumes that social prejudices
may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the
negro except by an enforced commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this
proposition. If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be
the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other’s merits, and a
voluntary consent of individuals. . . .”
Apply the Skill
1. What issue was addressed by the
Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson?
2. What arguments did the Court use to
support its decision in Plessy v. Fergu-
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