Both court cases dealt with the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Plessy vs. Ferguson was decided in 1896 when Plessy, who was part black, was removed from a railroad passenger car which had been designated "whites only." The Supreme Court held that separate facilities were constitutionally protected as long as they were "equal facilities." Hence was born the doctrine of "Separate but Equal," an incongruous policy which was practiced for almost seventy years. Under separate but equal, black and white children were forced to attend separate schools; public restrooms, water fountains, theaters, restaurants, etc. were segregated by race. They were in fact anything but equal.
Brown vs. Board of Education was decided in 1954. It was one of several cases joined for hearing before the Supreme Court. In that case, the court held that segregated public schools were indeed a violation of the 14th Amendment. The Court held that segregated schools had "no place" in American society and that schools must be desegregated "at once."
Needless to say, the ruling met with tremendous resentment. This writer began first grade in 1954, the year Brown vs. Board of Education was handed down. There were no black students in my school until my twelfth grade year in 1966.
Plessey V. Ferguson, 1896
- The case involved a dispute over the legality of segregated railroad cars
- it said that "separate but equal" was constitutional
Brown V. Board of Ed, 1954
- "separate but equal" was unconstitutional