Analogy of Racial Segregation
The consequences of past events can teach us lessons, shaping the way we think today. For instance, racial segregation, which was established by the Jim Crow laws of the Civil War period and ended in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Act, saw the public separation of blacks and whites. Lessons were learned in that the unethical condition of segregation was recognized, but nearly a century in waiting. Thus, the Jim Crow laws of the late nineteenth century, along with the reversal of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, were reexamined for their constitutionality, and the Civil Rights Act of 1965 ended the institution of racial segregation. Two cases to directly compare are Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the legal mode of “separate but equal,” and Brown v. Board of Education that ended racial segregation. The historical analogy of these two events demonstrates that history helps to define our actions, allowing us to learn from past mistakes and generate new and better ideas for the future.
The historical timeline leading up to the Civil War saw many stereotypical images of blacks portrayed as being inferior to whites. At the time, a minstrel show promoting a black character named “Jim Crow” was introduced, which became synonymous with other racial slurs used by whites to demonstrate black inferiority. By the end of the 1800s, the discriminatory legal practices became known as the Jim Crow laws, with the southern states writing constitutional provisions to declare the subordinate state of blacks. The majority of the Jim Crow laws were directed at segregating blacks in public areas, such as restaurants, schools, and buses, as well as preventing black males from voting. The Supreme Court further impacted the segregation laws by ruling the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional, which had previously given freedom of “full and equal enjoyment” to “all persons.” The opinion stated that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to blacks, making segregation legal and coining the phrase, “separate but equal.” Thus followed segregation laws at the state level, and a national acceptance of racial separation.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, which ended racial segregation in employment and public access, prohibited discrimination based on sex, race, national origin, or religion. Preceding this landmark event, several movements were made in the struggle against racism. In Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka (1954), the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in schools was unconstitutional. The following year, the Federal Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation on public transportation in response to the bus boycott stimulated by Rosa Parks, a black woman who refused to be segregated on a bus. 1962 saw the Department of Defense integrate all military units. However, they did exclude the National Guard. While a number of riots followed the legalized end to racial segregation, it was only a few years later, in 1972, that the first black justice of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall, was elected.
The opinions on racial segregation differed greatly from the times of the Jim Crow laws of the previous century to when the Civil Rights Act was rewritten in 1964. Chief Justice Joseph Bradley cited, when reviewing the Civil Rights Act of 1875, that the Fourteenth Amendment did not protect people from discrimination by individuals or private groups, only by the state. The court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, was another demonstration of legalized segregation, allowing separation of blacks and whites if equal accommodations were provided. The court’s decision further stalled the administration of civil rights for black Americans, granting legal authority to establish white superiority. For the next forty years, numerous anti-black actions followed, especially in the south, such as lynchings, chain gangs, and prison farms. The sentiment of black segregation and inferiority eventually changed as Americans were exposed to new ideas in equality, learned from the unfair practices and severe brutality that was the result of the Jim Crow laws and the judgment at the time that the Fourteenth Amendment was unconstitutional.
The civil rights struggle focused on reversing legal decisions made in the late 1800s, which were also supported for the first half of the 1900s. The eventual provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ending racial segregation was the result of an accumulated effort to organize individuals and groups to resist the acceptance of “separate but equal.” The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) organized in 1909 with the mission to renew the civil and political liberties of all disadvantaged people, like the blacks who suffered the most under discrimination. The NAACP launched numerous public protests advocating the improved treatment of blacks. As the court cases that led up to legalized segregation established white dominance, the likewise assertion by groups like the NAACP and other civil-minded individuals, whites included, brought new cases to the Supreme Court. This turned the tide for the struggle against racial segregation. As mentioned, the case of Brown v. Board of Education, as well as Morgan v. Virginia of 1946, which disallowed segregation in public forms of transportation (train and bus), were landmark cases that changed the sentiment of racial segregation.
A comparative analysis of Plessy v. Ferguson of the 1800s and Brown v. Board of the 1900s can provide historical justifications for the legal actions taken towards discrimination and segregation during two different eras. In each of these cases the constitutionality of discrimination was examined. In Plessy, a Louisiana law permitted the segregation of railroad facilities, as long as each of the facilities was comparable to each other. This case determined that discrimination was not illegal. This system of “separate but equal” persisted until the Brown decision in 1954. In this case, the constitutionality of discrimination was again looked at, and the NAACP stepped in to request an injunction to prevent public schools in Topeka, Kansas from discriminating against children based on their race. Spurred by other civil rights actions of the times, the court’s decision determined that being separate was not a means of providing equality. It read, the “segregation of white and Negro children in the public schools…solely on the basis of race…denies to Negro children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.” Even though the physical facilities of a public school may be considered “equal,” the segregation of children based on race (or any other trait) inhibits their gaining the same full access to education as whites. Thus, the social support during these two different eras saw opposing views on the equality and ethics of discrimination.
The historical disadvantages legally granted to blacks with the establishment of the Jim Crow laws and the Supreme Court ruling that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional enforced racial segregation and socially supported discrimination against blacks. An analagous historical event was the situation that reconsidered the Civil Rights Act, ending legalized racial segregation in 1964. With the rulings in Plessy v. Ferguson legalizing “separate but equal,” and the later reversal of this condition with Brown v. Board of Education determining that segregation does not allow for full equality, the social context of the times can be analyzed against each other. This contrasting of two related events shows that the two eras saw differences in social concerns. America learned lessons from the events surrounding the end of slavery, determining that racial prejudice at that level was not a benefit to the country. In turn, as segregation was overruled, racial discrimination on a private level has continued. Thus, the course of history teaches us lessons in humanity, improving with each generation. Perhaps another hundred years of civil movements in history and advancements in social awareness will teach us to privately disallow racial discrimination as well.
The Civil Rights Movement. (1997). Retrieved March 22, 2004, from Cable News Network Inc.
Davis, RLF. Creating Jim Crow: An In-Depth Essay. Retrieved March 22, 2004, from The History of Jim Crow Website: http://www.jimcrowhistory.org/history/creating2.htm