This article is written by Pranav Sethi studying at NMIMS School of Law, Navi Mumbai. This article elaborates on Jim Crow laws dealing with racial segregation and discrimination faced by Black people in opportunities and public places.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jim Crow laws divided Americans over race in 26 states from 1881 till 1964. The legislation established legally recognized separation, or the legislative segregation of Americans based on race. People throughout many American regions, cities, and states, both north and south, remained in divided neighborhoods and joined either all-White or all-Black schools. In Jim Crow states, legal segregation was justified by the “majesty of the law.” The “rule of law” imposed punitive measures and penalties on anyone who disobeyed segregation laws and enactments.
The main prevalent Jim Crow laws made it unlawful for anybody to marry a person of a different race. It even required business owners to divide their customers based on skin color and safeguarded their right to refuse service to someone based on race. The Confederate States of America was formed when 11 states broke away from the Union in 1861, and these states followed Jim Crow laws. After they left the union, the Confederate states had only one objective in mind: the protection of slavery and White supremacy. Abraham Lincoln fought to keep the Union together and to abolish slavery.
Just after the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment was incorporated into the Constitution which effectively ended slavery in the United States. It had a minimal implication on the mindsets and beliefs that were used to justify and maintain the view that keeping other people as slaves and limiting individuals’ autonomy and any understanding of equality was acceptable. The Jim Crow laws sought to deprive autonomy and equality to the oppressed African Americans. The struggle against Jim Crow separation and for complete constitutional protections for all Americans started in the courts, then it shifted to the city and finally to Congress.
Origin of Jim Crow laws
The word “Jim Crow” refers to a set of laws and regulations issued by Southern states and municipal authorities between 1877 and 1965 that legalized segregation (physical separation of people centred on race, gender, religion, or class). It also refers to the approach to life in the South in which Whites and Blacks survived in 2 massively unequal societies. The White had all the force, fortune, and advantages, while the Black confronted daily, somewhat neverending incidents of fear and embarrassment, with little free expression, little capital, and no fair treatment.
The term Jim Crow was inspired by a song and dance schedule done by a performer in one of the famous theatre shows that toured the country from the 1820s to the 1870s. In one of the travelling performances, White actor Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice played Jim Crow, an elderly Black slave. Rice took the stage wearing ‘blackface.’ He used burnt cork to darken his face and hands, dressed in shabby overalls, moved across the stage in bare feet, and carried a banjo. His routine would include jokes, a song and a dance performance called “Jim Crow,” which was demonstrated in a White version of the Black language.
It is unclear how the term “Jim Crow” came to be connected with segregation legislation, but by the 1890s, it had come to mean an entire way of life. It represented an entire society founded on fear, racism, and violence that had an impact on every African American residing in the South. 90% of Black Americans lived in the 11 states that made up the former Confederacy until the 1920s. Thousands of African Americans were killed by White mobs during the early Jim Crow era (1880–1900) of the nineteenth century, and the Black population lost all of the political, legal, and citizenship rights they had attained during the Civil War (1861–1865). Jim Crow meant entertainment, laughter, and fun for White people. The term signified weakness, embarrassment, and dishonour in African American families.
The term “Jim Crow Law” was first used in a newspaper story recounting a congressional debate in 1884. The phrase first appeared in 1892 as the heading of an article in the New York Times regarding Louisiana’s requirement for segregated railroad cars. The song and dance parody “Jump Jim Crow,” which was first presented by White actor Thomas D. Rice in blackface in 1828, is frequently cited as the inspiration for the term “Jim Crow.” Jim Crow had evolved into a derogatory term for “negro” by 1838 as a result of Rice’s reputation. Further, Jim Crow laws were created when southern governments enacted racial segregation laws against African Americans at the end of the 19th century.
Segregation of blacks in America
American civilization is characterized by racial domination, division, and unfair opportunity. Black people managed to endure centuries of slavery while being excluded from formal education. Although American society views education as the path to opportunities, schools frequently represent and contribute to inequality by providing the finest instruction to the most advantaged students in the wealthiest and most highly educated neighborhoods. Public schools, which educate and aid in socialization for nine out of every ten children in America, are the most crucial cultural institutions. In reality, the weaker schools tend to be home to the least fortunate and most marginalized people. Many parts were facing residence discrimination wherein even Black children from prosperous middle-class households frequently finish up in institutions that are much lesser demanding than White institutions. The 1876 election crisis was resolved by an agreement to stop government implementation of Black rights after the Civil War and the passing of three amendments to the Constitution that guaranteed equal rights to Blacks.
Stripped off of the basic rights of black people by taking away their voting rights
The first step towards removing Black men’s civil rights was to deny them the ability to vote by violent means and through court cases. Southern states started enacting academic tests, poll taxes, complex registration procedures, and ultimately Whites-only Democratic Party primaries to bar Black voters starting in the 1890s.
On November 10, 1898, in a massacre in Wilmington, North Carolina, a White mob overthrew a biracial government that had been duly elected and replaced it with White extremists. The day before the attack, Democratic Alfred Waddell, the mob’s leader, recited the so-called White Declaration of Independence, declaring: “We will no longer be ruled, and will never again be ruled by men of African origin.” The death toll was worsened by mass killings of around 60 people. The murders brought into sharp relief the separatist violence that threatened Black Americans in the Jim Crow South.
Guinn v. United States
In the case of Guinn v. United States (1915), the government filed a lawsuit against the state officials named as defendants, saying that they plotted to deny some voters the opportunity to cast a vote in a state election. The state employees were found guilty. On appeal, the state officials argued that the states had the authority to choose suffrage requirements and that the Fifteenth Amendment did not remove this authority. However, the government maintained that the clause of an Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment that fixed a voting criterion based on a date before the Fifteenth Amendment’s ratification was in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment’s self-executing prohibitions. Two issues were forwarded to the US Supreme Court by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Further, in the Judgment the Oklahoma Constitution Amendment was declared invalid by the court, ruling that it was unenforceable in its attempt to deprive citizens of the right to vote in accordance with pre-Fifteenth Amendment standards. The Court also provided a positive response to the second certified question. The state constitutional amendment, according to the court’s reasoning, established a voting requirement but was actually a revival of circumstances that the self-executing power of the Fifteenth Amendment had eliminated.
Racist coverage by newspapers for supporting white supremacy
Responses from the two major candidates, Hoke Smith, publisher of the Atlanta Journal, and Clark Howell, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, aggravated White feelings towards Blacks. Smith advocated for a state literacy test in order to disempower African Americans and “keep them in their place.” In his newspaper columnists, Howell alleged Smith of becoming “too friendly toward blacks” and claimed that he could do a better job by showcasing and safeguarding White supremacy in the state. Candidates’ controversial statements would include warning messages about “black beasts” wandering the streets. Both newspaper articles were printed daily during the summer that carried headlines pertaining to cases involving attacks on White women by “black brutes,” none of which were true, and this resulted in falsely denigrating Black people’s character.
One of the primary reasons for the devastating unrest was fake news from newspapers. Additional printings of both newspapers showed up with unconfirmed stories about four midday threats by Black “brutes” on White women. Thousands of White men and boys assembled downtown and marched across a predominantly Black middle-class neighborhood armed with weapons, bats, and rocks. The first act of brutality was when a group of White people broke into a Black barbershop and murdered five Black customers by beating them. Walter White, then 13 years old, who would go on to become the executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), saw a group of White people attack and kill a young Black man with a twisted foot with a stick.
Numerous White-owned newspapers published across the country for decades encouraged the racial hate lynchings and murders of thousands of Black Americans. These publications frequently highlighted the violence of White lynch mobs in their headlines and described the horrifying details of the lynchings. Many White journalists watched as Black men, women, youths, and children were put to death from trees and brutally killed during Jim Crow lynchings. White mobs frequently posed on courthouse lawns while laughing for photographs that appeared on the covers of major newspapers.
Separate but equal principle
Under the “separate but equal” principle outlined in the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson ruling in 1896, the federal courts permitted the former Confederate states to implement extensive racial control and separation structures (the “Jim Crow” system). It found out that while segregation was strictly maintained, administrators determined that hardly any equal opportunity for Black children was sufficient and left political control of “equality” to their choice. For instance, the Supreme Court unanimously approved the abolition of high schools for Black children just three years after the Plessy matter.
The civil rights movement was sparked in 1954 by the majority ruling of the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, that explained in the sphere of public education, the notion of separate but equal has no place. Separated schools have an inbuilt bias towards each other. The Court concluded that segregation produced suffering that was highly unlikely ever to be reversed.
State and municipal leaders struggled persistently to prevent or slow down progress, despite the fact that segregation by law in formal schooling was declared unconstitutional in the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. Thousands of school districts maintained nearly complete separation up to the civil rights movement, and the passage and implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 resulted in significant improvements in the South in the late 1960s. 1965–1969 was the only time when the federal government actively and strategically used its authority to enact desegregation laws. For several more years, the federal courts independently expanded the standards, but the Nixon Administration willfully disregarded enforcing the Civil Rights Act 1964, and by 1974, its four Supreme Court appointments had resulted in significant restrictions.
To end segregation in Northern schools, neither the judiciary nor the executive branch created important regulations. Due to the initiatives it founded, it was extremely challenging to obtain a request and unlikely to consider the suburbs, where by that time the most prestigious and well-funded schools, as well as the White populations, have been largely focused. The Supreme Court delayed taking action and said little of anything about desegregating Northern and Western city school districts until two decades after the Brown decision. A nationwide equalisation of educational assets was likewise rejected by the Supreme Court.
Under Nixon, Ford, and other Republican presidents, the federal government strongly opposed urban desegregation, and by 1981, the only important federal funding source for municipal initiatives encouraging diversified education had been cut off. In the Oklahoma School District case from 1991, the Supreme Court ruled that current desegregation plans mandated by federal courts must be repealed and school districts should be allowed to resume segregation-producing practices.
The desegregation approach was described as a short-term solution that was in implementation until equitable educational achievements were achieved. Many different forms of voluntary municipal desegregation programs were banned by the High Court in a 2007 ruling. It was a remarkable turn of events.
After a while, the focus shifted to other concerns, like Black control and Afro-American teaching methods, which were implemented in a number of the country’s largest urban centres by the 1980s and eventually in hundreds of school systems. However, these initiatives had little impact on academic results, and attendance in these institutions fell partly as an outcome of unsatisfactory test scorecards. Until the final years of the Obama Presidency, when Secretary of Education John King brought up the integration problem once more, the emphasis had shifted from boosting standards to disciplining “failed” schools by the 1980s. Congress even rejected President Obama’s proposal for funding of the voluntary implementation initiatives.
Since 1990, schools have remained progressively more divided across the nation. The big civil rights laws and court rulings made the South the most unified region of American education within a few years of King’s murder, and the benefits persisted for 2 decades. Then, as federal courts and bureaucracies became more conservative, they disregarded the objectives of combined schools and effectively reversed most of what’s been accomplished. Today’s level of segregation in schools is higher than it was in the late 1960s. The entire concept of integration was attacked during the conservative era that began with the Reagan Administration, criticized as a failure, and all but faded away from discussions of the public schooling system for years. Black students were sent back to neighborhood schools that were separated and had high concentrations of hardship after desegregation programs, most of which had been beneficial, were abandoned. Many of the effectively promoted voluntary desegregations purposely combined magnet schools that had gained popularity among both Whites and Blacks abandoned their inclusion objectives and turned into more White for the selective exam institutions.
Jim Crow laws v. Separate Car Act
The U.S. Supreme Court had the authority to address constitutional validity in a Louisiana court case. A law prohibiting passengers from boarding a railroad coach or division towards which by race he does not confirm. This legislation was approved by the legislature in 1890. Other states had a related law; Tennessee had passed it first in 1881, and many other states had done the same in the late 1880s.
However, no one had filed a lawsuit challenging these laws. Homer Adolph Plessy, a New Orleans-based African American shoemaker, was a member of the Citizens’ Committee. He questioned the constitutional validity of the Separate Car Law. He was exceedingly light-skinned and seven-eighths White, so his race may not have been clear to others, but according to state law, that constituted him as “colored.” He was detained after he refused to board the “colored car,” as requested by the conductor. These things happened as planned. In order for a court to decide whether the 1890 separate car law was legally valid, the Citizens’ Committee had ordered Plessy to purchase a ticket, ride in the Whites-only car, and get himself detained. The initial Jim Crow law mandated that White and Black passengers on trains get “equal but separate” facilities.
Following the discriminatory demarcation that was supposed to prevent him from doing so, he sat in the Whites’ lone trail car. When Plessy resisted being moved to the “colored” car, the train conductor and a private investigator were waiting to detain him. This resulted in Plessy being prosecuted for infringing the Separate Car Act of 1890 and initiating the case that ultimately resulted in the famous Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).
Implication of the Separate Car Act, 1890
The Louisiana State Government established the Separate Car Act of 1890, which mandated that all passenger trains provide separate carriages with equal amenities for Black and White Americans. This law served as a benchmark for White Americans’ attitude towards African Americans from the end of Reconstruction to the turn of the twentieth century. African Americans were gradually acquiring power in society without the framework of exploitation, and they started to challenge racial stereotypes and demand more liberties. White Americans found this strange and terrifying, and this concern, particularly in the south, led to a growing urge to divide the races and impose more regulations.
Furthermore, Southern African Americans witnessed the promise of legal equality reflected in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments in Constitution infringing on people’s rights and institutionalizing racism as White supremacy re-established itself throughout the South. Due to his mixed race, Homer Plessy consented to be the plaintiff in Plessy v. Ferguson. He selected the empty seat in the Whites-only trail vehicle after the Citizens’ Committee of New Orleans persuaded him to do so since Plessy “looked White.” Albion Tourgee, a New York attorney who would later recognize Plessy in court, used this tactic. He believed that having someone of mixed ancestry commit the offence would simply serve to emphasise the arbitrary character of the term “colored.” The Separate Car segregation law, according to Plessy, infringed the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits states from depriving “any person within their jurisdiction of the equal protection of the laws,” according to a petition he filed against the judge in his trial.
Despite Plessy’s claim, the Supreme Court decided on May 18, 1896, four years after his arrest, that the 14th Amendment’s protections only extended to political and civil rights (such as voting and jury duty), not to social equality (such as sitting on a railcar). The idea of “separate but equal” as a basis for separation was established by the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. Jim Crow laws were capable of surviving for the following 60 years because separate but equal facilities, particularly in the south, were recognised as the criterion.
Landmark cases in which Jim Crow laws were challenged in courts
There had been several landmark cases that challenged Jim Crow law’s segregation of Blacks and Whites in public spaces. Even at schools, colleges, and public transport, this discrimination between Blacks and Whites for opportunities was made legal. At the end of the day, this was about to be challenged by certain cases that would further mark landmark rulings.
Murray v. Pearson (1952)
It was in the case of Murray v. Pearson determined by the Maryland Court of Appeals that “the state has assumed the duty of education under the law, but has excluded kids of one race from the only appropriate provision created for it, and has excluded them simply because of their color.” On January 15, 1936, the Court upheld the lower court’s decision ordering the university to unite its student body immediately, setting a precedent for segregation to be unconstitutional in Maryland moving forward.
Facts of the case
Commencing in 1933, Thurgood Marshall (who had previously been turned down from law school due to its racial acceptance policies) made the decision to question this conduct in the Maryland legal system. He was dismayed that the University of Maryland School of Law was turning away Black candidates purely because of their race. In 1935, Marshall contended before a Baltimore City Court that Donald Gaines Murray was denied admission to the University of Maryland’s School of Law primarily based on his race and that he was equally capable as White candidates.
Marshall argued in the circuit court proceeding that Murray was not given a “separate but equal” education as mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment by Maryland (using the legal standard at that time). A law school in another state might not educate an aspiring lawyer for a job in Maryland because rules vary from state to state. Marshall reasoned that Murray should be permitted to study at a White university since the State of Maryland had not established an equivalent law school in terms of infrastructure and specialization for Blacks.
The judge delivered a writ of mandamus directing University President Pearson to enroll Murray. The decision was challenged by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which in January 1936 upheld the lower court’s decision. The Court uniformly made the decision not to prohibit racial segregation in schools but to compel the state to uphold the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and guarantee essentially equal treatment in all institutions it delivers with public money. Due to Maryland’s decision to only provide one law school for students to use, that law school was mandated to be accessible to all students, irrespective of race.
Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada (1938)
In the case of Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s first significant victory in the fight against racial discrimination in public schooling at the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes overturned a Missouri statute that forbade African Americans from attending law school at its state institution and instead funded their fees to study at a public law school in a neighboring state in a 6-2 ruling. Lincoln University, the state’s only historically Black public university, did not have a law school.
Facts of the case
In 1935, Lloyd Gaines earned his degree from Lincoln University, a public institution designed exclusively for Black students. He enrolled at the University of Missouri Law School because Lincoln University did not offer a law school. He was denied entry and informed that doing so would be against the constitutional provisions, statutes, and policymaking of Missouri. Gaines claimed that his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment were infringed by the Board of Regents’ refusal to enrol him, so he filed a lawsuit to order them to do so. His applications were rejected by the Court, and the Missouri Supreme Court further upheld the decision.
- Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was violated when Lloyd Gaines was denied enrollment in the University of Missouri Law School?
The Court found that denying Black students in Missouri the opportunity to continue professional legal training constituted a violation of their legal rights to take advantage of an entitlement that the State had established. The Court also concluded that paying student fees in another jurisdiction did not end discriminatory practices. The candidate was found to be qualified for equivalent treatment under the law, and the state was required to provide that security for them inside the state’s boundaries, according to the court’s ruling. The Court concluded that the petitioner had a right to admission to the state university’s law school in the absence of any suitable arrangements for his legal education.
Sweatt v. Painter (1950)
The United States Supreme Court found in the classic case of Sweatt v. Painter that independent law school facilities could not offer a legal education comparable to that offered at the University of Texas Law School, one of the top-ranked law schools in the country.
Facts of the case
A Black man named Heman Marion Sweatt submitted an application for enrollment in the University of Texas Law School in 1946. Sweatt’s application was immediately denied due to his race and the state law that only allowed White people to attend the institution. When Sweatt requested the state courts to accept his enrollment, the University made an effort to offer Black law students separate but equal facilities. A separate law school for African American students provided petitioners with advantages that were essentially equal to those provided to White university students of Texas, therefore the appeal court rejected a writ of error and maintained lower court rulings that rejected mandamus. The petitioner requested a writ of certiorari, alleging that his right to equal protection as guaranteed by U.S. Constitution Amendment XIV had been violated.
- Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was violated by the University of Texas Law School?
The Equal Protection Clause mandated that the petitioner be accepted to the University of Texas Law School, according to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in opposition. The Court was unable to determine any appreciable equity between the educational possibilities provided to White and Black law students by the state, regardless of whether the University of Texas was contrasted with the first or most recent African American law school. The separate school, according to the Court, would be superior in a variety of categories, such as professors, academic achievement, library resources, and the possibility of opportunities for interpretation of legal texts. The Court also determined that students’ capacity to perform in the legal industry was affected by their simple isolation from most law students. The petitioner had a legal right to receive legal education in line with that given to learners of other races, and such teaching was not provided by a separate law school.
McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (1950)
The Oklahoma law that required segregation in academic learning was overturned in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, an important case that served as a preface to the 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education Topeka by the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawsuit got started when George W. McLaurin was turned down by the University of Oklahoma for enrollment in its doctoral program in teaching, stating the segregation statute that makes it unlawful to run a school where both Blacks and Whites were trained. In Oklahoma City’s federal court, McLaurin initiated a lawsuit. A three-judge ruling overturned the legislation to the extent that it prevented McLaurin from enrolling at the University of Oklahoma in a ruling that was fair and even thoughtful.
Facts of the case
George McLaurin, a former senior Black professor, submitted to the University of Oklahoma on January 28, 1948, in order to acquire a doctorate in education. According to Oklahoma law, it was a crime to operate or manage a school where both White students and African Americans were admitted or taught. Therefore, school officials were compelled to refuse him admittance based purely on his colour. In order to obtain membership, McLaurin raised this concern.
On October 6, the Tribunal for the Western District of Oklahoma ruled that portions of the Oklahoma Act that barred McLaurin from enrollment were discriminatory and that the State had a responsibility to give him the education he desired as soon as it started so for candidates from any other class. With this decision, the Board of Regents of the University decided to admit McLaurin, but on segregation grounds.
The institution attempted to separate McLaurin from other students on campus even though it could no longer grant him admission. He had to sit alone in another part of the classroom, on a different chair in the library, and at a different table from the other kids in the cafeteria (and occasionally eat at a later time). The Oklahoma City Federal Court upheld the discrimination, noting that the Constitution “does not abolish distinctions based upon race… nor was it intended to enforce social equality between classes and races.” Though traditional in courts up until that point, such thinking was probably losing all credibility and trust in the judiciary.
In June 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned the lower court judgment after hearing McLaurin’s appeal in April 1950. According to the Court, Chief Justice Fred Vinson stated that the treatment of McLaurin differently constituted a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment – it was noted that, “Such restrictions impair and inhibit his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession.” The Court found that the appellant’s personal and existing rights to the equal enforcement of the laws were violated by the requirements under which he was compelled to complete his studies.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)
In the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, it was a historic Supreme Court ruling wherein the Court decided that government laws mandating racial discrimination in public institutions are unlawful, even when the separate schools are of equivalent level. The Court’s judgement overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, having declared the “separate but equal” concept unlawful for American public universities and academic institutes in 1896. It was a key win for the civil rights movement and a paradigm for several similar impact lawsuits, paving the way for unity.
Facts of the case
In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which declared that racial segregation in public establishments was lawful as long as the Black and White arrangements were equal, which made racially segregated schools legal in major parts of the United States in 1954. By the mid-nineteenth century, civil rights organizations had organized objections on constitutional grounds to challenge racial discrimination. In the early 1950s, NAACP lawyers filed multiple lawsuits in Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware in support of Black schoolchildren and their families, requesting court rulings to direct school authorities to allow the participation of Black students in White public institutions.
It was in the 1940s when the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) was initiated to challenge the racial segregation of students in academic institutions. The NAACP in Topeka urged a group of African American parents to attempt to enroll their kids in schools with only White students to ensure equal treatment and opportunities are made available to Black students as well. One of the parents, named Oliver Brown’s request as well as all of the parents’ repeated requests were denied. Mr. Oliver Brown was informed that his daughter would have to attend a separate African American school rather than the neighborhood White school since she could not join the latter. Further, one of the lawsuits was filed against the Topeka, Kansas School Board of Education.
The NAACP’s important argument was that segregation, by its very nature, was an infringement of the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, despite its assertion that the education provided to African Americans (observing facilities, teachers, etc.) was substandard compared to that provided to Whites. The case was heard by the U.S. District Court in Kansas, which noted how segregation of children in public schools had a negative impact on the coloured children and amounted to ‘a sense of inferiority’ but then also upheld the “separate but equal” doctrine.
The Court further combined three other class-action school segregation lawsuits brought by the NAACP in October 1952 with Brown v. Board of Education. The cases that were combined were:
- Gebhart v. Belton (1952) in Delaware,
- Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (1952), and
- Briggs v. Elliott (1951) in South Carolina.
On December 9, 1952, the case Brown v. Board of Education was under examination. Thurgood Marshall represented the plaintiffs and later became the first African American Hon’ble Judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court (1967–1991). On December 8, 1953, the case underwent a second round of arguments to evaluate whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s drafters would have interpreted the provision to be contrary to racial segregation in public schools. The 1954 ruling determined that the relevant historic record was unclear.
Issues involved in the case
- Whether racially divided public institutions were fundamentally unequal and so outside the purview of the doctrine of separate but equal?
- Whether the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution framers would have interpreted Jim Crow laws as being contradictory to racial discrimination in public schools?
The Brown family and the other plaintiffs were successful in getting a majority 9-0 ruling from the Supreme Court in May 1954. All the justices supported a particular perspective prepared by chief justice Earl Warren that makes up the ruling. He pronounced the unanimous decision of the Court, asserting that, “We conclude that in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”.
The Court emphasised that Congress did not specifically intend for the Fourteenth Amendment to force integration of public schools when it was written in the 1860s. However, integration was not forbidden by that Amendment. The Court noted that the Fourteenth Amendment still provides equal access to education. According to the Court, public education has evolved into a crucial element of an individual’s public sphere in the 20th century, serving as the cornerstone for democratic citizenship, typical socialization, and specialized training. Any youngster who is refused a quality education in this situation is unlikely to be successful in life. Therefore, once a state has committed to providing equal educational opportunities, such education becomes a right that must be delivered to both Blacks and Whites on an equal level.
Children of African origin who were forced to attend segregated school systems due to their race experienced a sense of inferiority as a result of this policy, which lowered their learning motivation and denied them access to the higher education they would have received in racially integrated schools. It was stated that recent psychological research “amply supported” this conclusion. The notion of “separate but equal” has no place in the world of public education.
The Supreme Court did not immediately attempt to deliver a recommendation on the application of its decision right away because it observed some pushback, particularly in the southern states. Instead, it requested desegregation plans from the attorneys general of every state for legislation allowing segregation in public schools. Desegregation was to continue with “all deliberate speed” according to a plan that the Justices issued in May 1955, following additional hearings before the Court on the issue.
Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964)
Considered in light of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s direct initiatives to allow access to public services and places of public accommodation, such as restaurants and hotels, the Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States case is particularly relevant. Due to its placement in the United States Code, the law’s employment-related sections are frequently made reference to as “Title VII.” The Act was enacted on July 2, 1964, and the Supreme Court heard the Heart of Atlanta case on October 5, 1964. The case was resolved on December 15, 1964. It has crucial relevance when comparing the support for this act to earlier Civil Rights Act approved by Congress that were either not enforced properly or were governed illegally.
Facts of the case
Racial segregation in establishments of public accommodation was prohibited by Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if it had an impact on commerce. In the case of Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States Black Americans were not permitted in Atlanta, Georgia’s Heart of Atlanta Motel. Under Title II, the government sought to prevent the motel from being discriminated against on the grounds of race.
The owner-operator of the appellant motel, who practised racial discrimination in the renting of its rooms, requested a review of the judgement by challenging the legality of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. All individuals have the right to be free from unequal treatment or discrimination of any type based on race, appearance, religion, or national origin at any institution or place, unless such discrimination or inequality is needed by any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, rule, or order of a State or any organisation or political party thereof. This right is specifically stated in Section 202 of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Act’s Section 203 forbids the diverting or withdrawal of any advantages or rights guaranteed by Sections 201 or 202, as well as the intimidation, threat, or coercion of any person with the intent to disrupt the procedure of any such right or the punishment of any such person for intending to apply a right. The district court ruled that Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is constitutional and prohibited the owner-operator of the motel from turning away African American visitors based on race. The owner of the motel requested additional review.
Issues involved in the case
- Is the authority granted to Congress by the Commerce Clause sufficient for them to enforce Title II of the Civil Rights Act on private companies?
- Did Congress infringe Section I of the 14th Amendment when it ordered the current owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel to refuse to accept clients on the basis of race or ethnic background?
- When Congress attempted to restrict the owner’s ability to manage his property as he saw fit, did it infringe the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause?
- Considering the 13th Amendment, can convincing the hotel’s owner to welcome African Americans be regarded as a form of forced subjection?
The United States Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act was an appropriate use of commerce power and that Congress had the authority to restrict race segregation by motels that cater to tourists, no matter how small their operations looked to be. In upholding the decision, the Court stated that the power of Congress over interstate commercial activity applied to those jurisdictional actions that also do quite impact it or the activity of Congressional control over it, making provisions of those operations a suitable way for Congress to express its authority over interstate commercial activity. The Court decided that the government could prohibit the motel from discriminating on the grounds of race over the Commerce Clause in a unanimous ruling written by Justice Clark. The motel’s proximity to Interstates 75 and 85 and the fact that the majority of its business came from outside Georgia demonstrated that it had an effect on interstate commerce, which is all that is required for Congress to use its Commerce Clause power.
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856)
A Black slave named Dred Scott fought for his freedom for ten years in the Dred Scott case, also known as Dred Scott v. Sandford. The case eventually made it to the United States Supreme Court, its judgment enraged abolitionists, fueled the anti-slavery struggle, and set the stage for the Civil War.
Facts of the case
In Missouri, Dred Scott was a slave. He lived in the Louisiana Territory, where slavery was outlawed by the Missouri Settlement of 1820, and in Illinois, which was a free state between 1833 and 1843. Scott’s master, Emerson, brought him to the Wisconsin Territory in 1832, where slavery was forbidden, to perform different jobs. Emerson let Scott marry while he was there and when he went to Louisiana, he left Scott and his wife behind in Wisconsin. Scott tried to buy his freedom from Emerson’s wife after his death in 1843, but she refused. Scott then filed a lawsuit for his freedom in federal court against Sandford, the executor of Emerson’s estate. He maintained that he remained a free man when he moved permanently to Wisconsin, a federal territory that forbade slavery.
When Scott eventually made it back to Missouri, he sued for his freedom there by arguing that because he had lived in a free territory, he was now a free man. Scott filed a new lawsuit in federal court after suffering a loss. No ‘Black’ or descendant of slaves, according to Scott’s master, could be a citizen in the sense of Article III of the Constitution.
- Whether Scott was a free man or still a slave?
Whether Scott had actually been free was the biggest question up for discussion before the Supreme Court. Black people were not and could not be citizens of the United States, the Court said in a 7-2 ruling on March 6, 1857, and for that reason, Scott lacked the legal right to file a lawsuit in federal court. The Missouri Compromise was declared unlawful by the court because it was determined that Scott had never been free and that Congress had overreached its limits when it prohibited or prohibited slavery in the territories. This viewpoint should not have been examined by the Court after it was determined that there was no jurisdiction.
Loving v. Virginia (1967)
The Supreme Court overturned state laws prohibiting interracial marriage in the US in the case of Loving v. Virginia. Richard and Mildred Loving’s marriage was unlawful under Virginia state law. They were both plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The Lovings made an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which roundly determined that so-called “anti-miscegenation” laws were in violation of the 14th Amendment. The ruling is sometimes recognised as a turning point in the abolition of “Jim Crow” segregation rules.
Facts of the case
Mildred Jeter, a Black woman and Richard Loving, a White man, both natives of Virginia, were married in the District of Columbia in June 1958 in accordance with its laws. The Lovings moved back to Virginia and started a family in Caroline County soon after getting married. A special prosecutor filed an accusation against the Lovings at the Circuit Court of Caroline County’s October Term in 1958, accusing them of breaking Virginia’s law against interracial marriages. The trial court deferred the punishment for a term of 25 years on the basis that the Lovings move out of state and do not come back to Virginia jointly for 25 years after the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge and received a one-year prison sentence.
The Lovings moved to the District of Columbia after being found guilty. They brought a motion to set aside the punishment and dismiss the judgment in the state trial court on November 6, 1963, arguing that the statutes they had broken were unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Lovings filed a class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on October 28, 1964, after the motion had not yet been settled. They asked for a meeting held by a three-judge court to rule Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws unlawful and to prevent state officials from carrying out their convictions. Following the state trial judge’s denial of the motion to dismiss the sentences on January 22, 1965, the Lovings filed an appeal with Virginia in the Supreme Court for Appeals.
- Whether miscegenation laws were in violation of the 14th Amendment?
After amending the punishment, the Supreme Court of Appeals maintained the legality of the anti-miscegenation laws and maintained the charges. Since Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage was a state categorization based purely on race, the Court dismissed Virginia’s objections and imposed severe scrutiny on its law prohibiting it in a decision penned by Chief Justice Warren. The Court did not consider the maintenance of racial equality to be a legitimate state aim to accept the forceful racial categorization, even though the law legally equally applied to all racial groups (in that members of any race cannot marry outside their race). The Virginian state’s goal of maintaining racial purity was only a misguided attempt to advance White supremacy, the Court noted, and state laws outlawing interracial marriage were a direct response to slavery.
The battle to end Jim Crow segregation and secure all Americans’ constitutional protections started in the courts, spread to the streets, and finally entered Congress. After more than 80 years of brutal killings, mass killings, assassinations, embarrassments, exclusion, discriminatory treatment, protest movements, rallies, bans, legislators’ discussions and obstructionism, racist court rulings, racist police abuse, and the complete failure of all lawful rights and protections, the effort was impactful. In 11 American states, Jim Crow brought in a totalitarian, racist culture. African Americans who lived in those states went through a lot of hardship and frustration during that period. Many thousands of people died, and many more lost the idea of equality and justice. As it has been rightly said by the former President of the United States Barack Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What impact did Plessy v. Ferguson have on Jim Crow laws in the South?
On May 18, 1896, the US Supreme Court changed the course of history because on that date, the Court asserted state-imposed Jim Crow laws in its Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” judgement. For the following fifty years, it served as the official justification for racial segregation in the United States.
How was the 14th Amendment a failure in protecting Black people?
The ability to exercise one’s rights in safety is a more limited understanding of civil rights. According to this concept, the Fourteenth Amendment’s reformers failed because, although giving African Americans the legal right to behave as full citizens, they were unable to do so without danger to their own lives and the lives of their families.
What was the difference between de facto and de jure segregation?
Legally speaking, racial segregation is defined as the division of societies into racial groups in accommodation, education, and other uses of public areas and civic life. It can either be sovereign from state actions, which means de jure or de facto, occurring due to natural preference or social circumstances. De jure segregation is regarded as unlawful in the US, necessitating a proactive solution. The state is not responsible for seeking recourse where segregation is recognized as de facto. Racial discrimination that is not required by law is known as “de facto segregation.” Individual preferences, biases, and social conventions are the causes. Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ending de jure segregation, it still existed. Black people were still supposed to sit in the back of buses even after the practice was abolished. To make room for White people, they were instructed to stand by the edge of the road before catching buses. Establishments that were supposedly “separate but equal” were still functioning. African-American kids continued to experience harassment in US public schools due to White people’s continued support of de facto segregation.
- Leslie Tischauser, Jim Crow Laws, Greenwood, Landmarks of the American Mosaic (2012).
- Fremon David K, The Jim Crow Laws and Racism in United States History, Enslow Publishers (2014).
- Folmsbee, S. J. (1949). The Origin of the First “Jim Crow” Law. The Journal of Southern History, 15(2), 235–247. https://doi.org/10.2307/2197999
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