Plessy v. Ferguson: A Legacy

Poole examines the widespread impact of one of the most famous supreme court cases: Plessy v. Ferguson

For almost a century, racial segregation within social activities was the norm in America. The abolition of slavery sought to change the lives of African American people and prohibit further degradation. After this came to fruition in 1865, a series of acts were created to provide citizenship and the right to vote for African American people. Despite the continued effort to embrace and diversify the civilians of America, the US Supreme Court carried out an array of legal decisions throughout the 70s and 80s, that compromised the livelihood of many African Americans. (Library of Congress) As one sees the abolition of slavery as freedom, the following events can be seen as an even bigger loss of that freedom. After years of suffering at the hands of plantation owners and farmers, African Americans soon faced the callous legal decisions restricting them from almost every aspect of life. They were legally separated within transportation, recreational facilities, the army and what we will be looking at specifically, education. 

In 1896 the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson, that it was constitutionally permissible that races were segregated within public facilities. (Oyez) Narrowing it down to its effect on children, this meant that white and black children were now legally separated within educational spaces. Under the “separate but equal doctrine,” children’s lives were forever altered and subject to a misfortune of prejudice placed in their youthful minds. After being released from the confinement of manual labor, generations to come were forced into a detrimental injustice; the shaping of their educational careers. Now on the surface, this seems as though children were merely going to school with their own color and although this is true, children were exposed to a plethora of different standards within races. 

This segregation started with inferior investments in the quality of education at all-black schools. As whites were seen as the superior race, they received what was deemed superior. Eventually, all-black schools became known as Jim Crow schools and the majority only taught what was assumed necessary for colored children. This consisted of skills needed for agricultural and domestic service work. (Iowa State University) The fact that these were the only subject area taught, meant the children couldn’t go onto find jobs past a corn or cotton field. All positions of authority, better pay and luxury were reserved for the whites and stripped from black children the moment they stepped into a place of learning. These jobs that most white Americans deemed low-class occupations were given to the minority to continue to serve the needs of the “higher class.” With the postulated class of black Americans clearly projected, it most definitely didn’t get much better from here. Although children started to attend school longer and achieve higher test scores, this was still incomparable to white children with larger schools and better-trained teachers. At this time, six out of 10 black adults were illiterate compared to seven out of 10 white adults being able to read. (AFT) Not only did this segregation affect the educational careers of black children, but it also had an enormous effect on the average wage gap between black and white individuals. The lack of education provided to black children played a major role in lower levels of skills found in individuals, which leads to lower-paying jobs and higher wage gaps between the two races. Now although this court case was notorious for altering the lives of the black youth, it isn’t the subject of the title. The court case that truly changed lives after the 50s is known as Brown v. Board of Education, which occurred in 1954. This was the case that reversed everything out down in Plessy v. Ferguson. “A plaintiff named Oliver Brown filed a class-action suit against the Board of Education of Topeka,” (History) which means his lawsuit was of a collective nature of many upset people. Brown believed that equality between white and black schools was too different. Along with this case, many more cases and the protesting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Supreme Court ruled it unequal to separate children by skin-colored. In fact, the Chief Justice stated “separate but equal has no place as segregated schools are inherently unequal.” (History) This court case changed our lives because if it didn’t exist, then today we could have been going to schools without co-existing with the plethora of skin colors we see today. The people of the times worked hard to make America equal and fair in many aspects and they continue to fight the growing negativity towards differences in this day and age.

Works Cited

Aftunion. “Jim Crow’s Schools.” American Federation of Teachers, 8 Aug. 2014, www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/summer-2004/jim-crows-schools.

H., Charles, et al. “Brown v. Board at Fifty: ‘With an Even Hand’ A Century of Racial Segregation, 1849–1950.” A Century of Racial Segregation 1849–1950 – Brown v. Board at Fifty: “With an Even Hand” | Exhibitions – Library of Congress, 13 Nov. 2004, www.loc.gov/exhibits/brown/brown-segregation.html.

History.com Editors. “Brown v. Board of Education.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/brown-v-board-of-education-of-topeka.

History.com Editors. “Plessy v. Ferguson.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/plessy-v-ferguson.

History.com Editors. “Segregation in the United States.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 28 Nov. 2018, www.history.com/topics/black-history/segregation-united-states.

“Iowa State University Digital Press.” doi:10.21428/b8136f97.

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