Segregation and Desegregation (Great American Court Cases)
Separate but Equal
De jure segregation, or the legal separation of racesn this case African Americans and whiteseveloped in the late nineteenth century. Prior to this, de facto segregation, or the separation of races on the basis of custom, was carried out by the institution of slavery. A series of constitutional amendments helped bring an end to de facto segregation. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the subsequent ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, which outlawed the institution of slavery, signfied the beginning of the end of de facto segregation. The Fourteenth (1868) and Fifteenth (1870) Amendments extended fundamental civil rights such as due process and the right to vote to African Americans. However, states intent on segregating the races devised ways to circumvent the Constitution. For example, legal codes were enacted in the South designed to restrict the freedom of African Americans such as prohibiting first-class seating on railway cars, and denying African Americans access to public schools. Although the post-Civil War Reconstruction legislation discouraged much of these types of laws, Southern states took measures to re-institute segregation. The body of laws which was instituted with the intent to legally separate African Americans from whites was known as "Jim Crow Laws."
(The entire section is 3129 words.)
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Segregation and Desegregation (Supreme Court Drama)
Through the early period of American history, races (groups of people normally identified by their skin color) were kept separate by social custom. White business owners simply refused to serve blacks. Slavery of black Americans was recognized as economically crucial to the Southern region. Political and legal liberties were not shared equally. For instance, only white male adults with property could vote in public elections. Boston's segregated (keeping races separate) public school system was affirmed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1850.
First Efforts of Desegregation
The Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 represented a first step to end these segregationist social customs. Immediately following the end of the American Civil War (18615) a series of three constitutional amendments, known as the Civil Rights Amendments were adopted to end such social customs and further racial integration (mixing of the races). The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments protected the constitutional civil rights of the newly freed slaves. Specifically, the Fourteenth Amendment extended "equal protection of the laws" to all Americans. It also maintained that everyone through the "due process" clause would be subject to the same legal processes. The Fifteenth Amendment extended voting rights to black males.
In spite of the new amendments, efforts to establish desegregation (abolishing segregation) social policies was met with severe resistance, particularly among the Southern states. State laws were passed restricting the freedom of black Americans, such as where blacks could sit on railroad cars and what public schools they could attend. The laws, known as Jim Crow Laws, sought to legally enforce racial segregation. Congress responded with federal laws supporting equal rights among all races. Civil Rights Acts were passed in 1866 and 1870 to enforce the civil rights amendments. With access to public facilities still being denied to many Americans on account of race and skin color, Congress passed another Civil Rights Act in 1875 making public facilities including railroads and hotels accessible to black Americans.
Severely hindering desegregation, Supreme Court decisions involving disputes over these rights commonly sided with the states during this period. The Court greatly limited the federal government's power to enforce the civil rights amendments. For example, in Civil Rights Cases (1883), a combination of three separate lower court cases involving similar civil rights disputes, the Supreme Court ruled application of the 1875 Civil Rights Act to private individuals or businesses unconstitutional (not following the intent of the U.S. Constitution and its amendments). The government could not force private businesses, such as hotels, restaurants, and railroad cars to integrate. As a result, by 1890 black Americans had few civil rights, particularly in the South.
"Separate But Equal"
The biggest blow against desegregation of public facilities came in the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ruling. By upholding a Louisiana law segregating access to railway cars between black and white Americans, a concept known as "separate but equal" was established. The decision maintained that segregation did not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if black and white Americans were given access to separate but equal facilities. The decision essentially gave approval to all laws requiring racial segregation.
Following the Plessy ruling, Jim Crow laws greatly expanded, particularly in the South where ninety percent of black Americans resided. Racial segregation was introduced into almost every aspect of American life in the fifteen Southern states plus West Virginia and Oklahoma. Other states allowed segregation but did not require it. Many of these laws were designed to keep black Americans from voting, causing segregation in access to political power. Other early laws focused on segregation of trains, both railway car seating and train station waiting rooms. State and local laws soon focused on public drinking fountains and restrooms, schools, hospitals, jails, streetcars, theaters, and amusement parks. There were white drinking fountains and black drinking fountains, white restrooms and black restrooms. Though separate, the facilities were rarely equal. The quality of facilities available to black Americans were normally far inferior to those available to white Americans. In 1915 it was revealed South Carolina was spending twelve times more public funds per student on white schools in comparison to schools for black Americans. Segregation was also enforced in the military where duties were given often on the basis of race. Segregated regiments were used in World War I (19148) and again in World War II (19395) until 1948 when desegregation was commanded by Presidential order.
With segregation practices more prevalent in the South, between 1900 and 1910 over 300,000 black Americans fled to the North and West seeking a better life. This movement, called the Great Migration, continued through the rest of the twentieth century. However, reception of these new residents in the North was not always friendly. Race riots broke out in 1917. Again in 1919 violence erupted in Chicago where many were killed when four black Americans attempted to enter a beach reserved for white Americans.
The Struggle Again For Desegregation
Organized opposition to segregation laws steadily grew. The National Urban League was formed in 1909 to assist black Americans readjusting from the rural South to the urban North. In 1910 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established. The NAACP focused on lobbying federal and state governments for changes. The organization also began initiating lawsuits challenging segregation policies. Through their actions the Supreme Court ruled in Buchanan v. Warley (1917) that segregation of residential areas was unconstitutional. A Louisville, Kentucky city ordinance had prohibited black Americans from living on the same streets as white Americans. The right to serve on juries was upheld in State v. Young (1919).
While the NAACP took avenues toward lawsuits and legislation, others seeking desegregation took different approaches. For example, Booker T. Washington, a black educator, believed desegregation would result from becoming more economically equal. He established the Tuskegee Institute to provide industrial job training for black Americans to economically improve themselves.
Despite these efforts racism raged on with violent Ku Klux Klan terrorism peaking in the 1920s. Founded in the late nineteenth century, the Klan was a militant white racist organization with almost five million segregationists were members by 1929.
Limited progress at desegregation was made during the 1930s as the nation, especially black Americans, suffered through the Great Depression (19298). Yet, progress was made in some areas. Through continued pressure from the NAACP and others, Philadelphia public schools were desegregated. In 1936, the Supreme Court in Murray v. Maryland required desegregation at Maryland law schools.
Separate Is Unequal
The major break finally came in a 1954 Kansas case. A black father, Oliver Brown, refused to send his daughter to a black school which was further from his home than a white school. When the close-by Topeka school refused to enroll his daughter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund led by future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall took Brown's case to the Supreme Court. In Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Court reversed the earlier Plessy decision and struck down the "separate but equal" standard. As the Court asserted, "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." Racial segregation denied blacks equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court declared. Federal district courts across the nation were given the command to desegregate public schools "with all deliberate speed." In this sweeping and historic decision, the Court reversed decades of legally forced racial segregation.
Rather than actually resolving the issue racial segregation, however, the Brown decision led to increased frustrations and violence. Many Southern states and school districts refused to comply with desegregation court orders. Various "freedom of choice" plans were created to preserve segregated schools. These plans allowed families to send their children to the school of their choice. Naturally, white families chose their predominately white neighborhood schools which they had been using while black families stayed in predominately black schools out of fear. Federal troops and law enforcement agents were called to enforce some local court orders. U.S. Marshalls forced integration at a Little Rock, Arkansas high school in 1957. Federal troops were called into action in 1963 at the University of Alabama and University of Mississippi to enforce desegregation and restore peace.
Besides at schools, desegregation was also ordered by the courts in transportation facilities, public housing, voting booths, and other public places like department stores, theaters, beaches, parks, libraries, and restaurants. Continued resistence to desegregation, particularly in the South, led to organized protests by blacks. Often led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, many non-violent techniques were employed including "sit-ins," picketing, and boycotts. One of the most noted events was the 1955 boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama buses in reaction to the arrest of Rosa Parks, a black woman, for sitting in the white section of a public bus.
The Civil Rights Movement Peaks
By the early 1960s the civil rights movement had become a major national freedom effort. Many white American college students from the North began to get involved in support of black Americans. In 1961 black and white American students conducted Freedom Rides on public buses and stayed at hotels testing desegregation laws along their traveled routes. Violence by Southern white supremacists (those who believe white Americans are superior over black Americans) grew. A leader of the NAACP, Medgar Evers, was shot and killed in 1963 in Mississippi. Four black American young girls were murdered in a Ku Klux Klan church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Also in Mississippi, three white students teaching blacks how to register to vote were murdered. Southern law enforcement attacked peaceful black protesters with fire hoses, dogs, and clubs. Dr. King, frequently arrested for various minor charges by Southern authorities in efforts to diffuse the civil rights movement, wrote a famous letter known as "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" in 1963. In it he defended use of civil disobedience (refusing to obey a law to demonstrate against its unfairness) tactics in combating unjust laws. Civil disobedience refers to peacefully not obeying laws considered socially unjust. In an epic civil rights event in 1963, Dr. King led a march of 250,000 people to Washington, D.C. demanding an end to discrimination and segregation.
Congress responded to growing public pressure by passing the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, and national origin. The act prohibited segregation in all privately owned public facilities associated, however remotely, with interstate commerce. The act also prohibited discrimination in education and employment. The Supreme Court immediately defended the act as constitutional in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964). Following a 1965 march in Selma, Alabama led by King in protest of voting restrictions on blacks that led to violent police attacks on the protesters, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Soon Congress also passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968 prohibiting discrimination in renting and purchasing homes. Desegregation of neighborhoods was further supported in 1968 in Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. when the Court ruled it illegal to refuse to sell or rent to a person because of skin color.
Segregation and discrimination still persisted and frustrations further mounted. Race riots erupted in the Watts section of Los Angeles in 1965. Violence spread through thirty American cities in 1967 causing extensive death, injury, and property damage. In 1968 Dr. King was assassinated, a major blow to the desegregation movement.
The Continued Struggle for Desegregation
Some successes in desegregation continued. Implementing school desegregation orders of the Brown decision continued to be a problem. In Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), the Court supported local busing plans. Busing often involved transporting black school children from the inner city largely black schools to the mostly white schools of the suburbs. Busing continued to be a highly controversial desegregation strategy through the end of the twentieth century.
Another face to desegregation efforts came in the form of affirmative action programs in the 1970s. Minorities were given preferences in hiring for employment or admissions to schools in an attempt to further integrate the workforce and student bodies.
Despite major gains in desegregation following the 1950s in education, public places, employment, and transportation, segregation was still a dominant feature of American society. Residential neighborhood patterns and growth of private schools have particularly continued the segregated way of life in America. The workforce and university student bodies saw the most change.
At the end of the twentieth century, old arguments remained alive in American thought. Some continued to oppose governmental desegregation efforts claiming the Fourteenth Amendment only banned discrimination, not segregation. Conversely, others claimed to segregate is to unfairly discriminate.
Suggestions for further reading
Holliday, Laurel. Children of the Dream: Our Own Stories of Growing Up Black in America. New York: Pocket Books, 1999.
Lewis, John. Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998.
Williams, Juan. Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954965. New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1987.
Wolters, Raymond. The Burden of Brown: Thirty Years of School Desegregation. Knoxville, TN: The University of Tennessee Press, 1984.