Plessy v. Ferguson was one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in the history of the United States. It was the decision that legitimated the idea of segregation and, therefore, made the Jim Crow system possible. It was overturned by another of the most important Supreme Court decisions, Brown v. Board of Education.
Plessy was decided in 1896. It concerned a Louisiana law that stipulated that white and black people could not sit in the same train cars. Homer Plessy was a man who was 7/8 white but was, by virtue of his black ancestry, considered to be black by Louisiana law. He made a point of getting arrested for sitting in the white car, thus bringing about a court case.
Plessy’s claim was that segregation violated the 14th Amendment. This amendment says that all people must be given the “equal protection of the laws.” Plessy argued that segregation denied him equality under the law. The Supreme Court disagreed. It said that separate accommodations for whites and blacks were acceptable so long as they were “separate but equal.” This led to a whole system of segregation that kept blacks and whites apart in almost all public places in the South.
This case was significant in our history because it allowed the system of segregation to exist with the blessing of the Constitution. This is typically seen as a terrible injustice that is a stain on our national history.