Plessy vs Ferguson Case Study
Court Case Plessy vs Ferguson
The great number of significant changes in the world history was caused by acute social conflicts. Oftentimes these key milestones were manifested by court cases between opponents. One of the most important court cases in the history of the United States of America was Plessy versus Ferguson. This process had a great impact on the development of social situation in the country in general and the racial policy in particular.
The court cases Plessy v. Ferguson took place in Louisiana State in the period from 1892 to 1896. It started on July 2, 1892, when the shoemaker Homer Plessy bought a first-class ticket from New Orleans to Covington (Thinkquest 2). He boarded the train that day that belonged to the East Louisiana Railroad Company. Being himself an octoroon (the person who is one-eighth black and seven-eighth white), Mr. Plessy took his sit in the regular car together with other white people. However, the train guard soon approached him, asking to move to the separate car for colored citizens. Mr. Plessy refused to do so, considering himself a white person. The guard had to arrest Homer Plessy as the violator of Louisiana Law, in particular, the Act 111.
Although the facts described above constituted the significant part of the case, the background behind this story was much deeper. The events that led to the Plessy v. Ferguson court case have started several years before. The situation in the United States after the end of the Civil War in 1877 was still rather unstable in the context of racial discrimination. Although the slavery was eliminated and the rights of former slaves were protected by government law, such as the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to Constitution, the real racial equality was not reached. For example, black individuals were oftentimes required to attend separate public facilities with white people, like cafes, toilets, different buses, and so on. One of the laws that supported this pro-racial idea was Act 111 of the State of Louisiana accepted in 1890. According to this regulation, white and colored individuals had to use separate accommodations on the railroad. Separate railway cars were provided for black and white passengers of the same trains. The penalty for taking wrong car was a fine of $25 or 20 days of jail. The major idea proclaimed by the government was a theory of “separate but equal”, emphasizing the equality of public facilities provided separately for colored and white citizens (Aaseng 41).
The law aroused a sound reaction in certain concerned groups of people in Louisiana. Most of them did not believe in the idea of “separate but equal” treatment, seeing a major violation of civil rights and racial oppression in the Act 111. Both black and white, citizens have organized a campaign called “Citizen’s Committee to Test the Separate Car Act”, aimed to argue the legitimacy of the new law. The association has found a consultant and jurist, Albion W. Tourgee, to aid them in the case. They offered him a sum of $1500 for help, but Tourgee denied money and decided to work for free. The next step in the Test Case was selecting a plaintiff among them. The Committee chose Homer Plessy due to his racial background. Being only one-eighth black and having rather white appearance he could easily pretend purely white. Homer was deliberately selected as a main participant, in order to prove how weak the definition of racial difference was. Therefore, Homer Plessy bought a ticket and stepped the “white” car of New Orleans – Covington train, which then led to his arrest and the start of court case in the criminal district court for the parish of Orleans.
Plessy argued in the court that the Act 111 violated the 13th and 14th Amendments to Constitution that prohibited slavery and gave equal civil right to US citizens in every state (Landmark Supreme Court Cases 4). The judge John Howard Ferguson, who presided the current case, found Plessy guilty, declaring regulation was legitimate in the context of trains on the Louisiana territory. Homer Plessy appealed to the Louisiana State Supreme Court, but it supported the decision of district court about the constitutionality of the Separate Car Act. Being very persistent, Plessy appealed to the United States Supreme Court. In the US Supreme Court this case became famous as Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896.
The decision of the jury in Homer Plessy’s final battle with injustice was not surprising. Seven out of eight juries found the Louisiana Separate Car Act not violating Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to Constitution. Besides, they considered public facilities for black and white people to be equal, though separate. Homer Plessy did not win the case, however his impact over civil rights system of the United States s significant. For the next sixty years the “separate but equal” concept was exploited in the country, requiring black citizens to use separate facilities. In fact, schools, cafes, toilets, railroad cars, and other public places for colored individuals were much worse then those for white (McNeese 90). This situation was changed only in 1954 by the court case known as Brown vs. Board of Education. It was the moment when the fight started by Homer Plessy at 1892 with racial segregation was eventually won.
In my opinion, sixty years was too long for the proper decision. It was obvious from the very beginning of the story that the civil law system of US was weak. The entire “separate but equal” concept had no sense, as it manifested inequality by its very essence. Equality by definition makes no difference, hence there may not be required any separation between equal people. Thus, the Separate Car Act was against constitution. Besides, in the present case the racial discrimination was expressed twice – by the Act 111 itself and by considering Homer Plessy black, while he was only one-eighth black. It implied that even though the most of Plessy’s blood was white, it was “spoiled” by a small amount of black blood, which made him “impure” and classified as black. Therefore, I would question the constitutional basis of the Louisiana law. The court case Plessy vs. Ferguson has demonstratively revealed weak spots of American legislative system. And although it took sixty years to regulate them, it may be considered as a victory.
I am myself quiet politically neutral person. I consider politics a very complicated and sometimes dirty kind of big game, and my basic political view may be expressed as “want everybody to be free and happy”. Although this attitude may seem ignorant, I deliberately stay apolitical, considering an individual’s personal moral beliefs to be much more important and demonstrative factors than political attitudes. Being developed through my entire life, my personal beliefs put justice and compassion on the first place among other virtues. From this standpoint the court case of Homer Plessy (as well as other examples of human and civil rights discrimination) seem terrifying to me. I can only hope that such an extreme injustice never happens again in our civilized country.