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Plessy v. Ferguson
Case Brief
Diego Yanez
Arizona State University

In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, Homer Adolph Plessy made the decision of suing the city of Ferguson when he, a 7/8th's Caucasian man, was arrested for sitting in a "whites only" car and for refusing to move to the "blacks" section of the train, something fairly familiar in the late 1800’s where “separate but equal” was enforced not only in trains and other forms of transportation, but in schools and even something as small as bathrooms and drinking fountains. In this case, Plessy argued that his Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments had been broken. The question throughout the case is if Louisiana’s law requiring racial segregation on public transportation was infringing upon the constitutional rights of African Americans.

In a seven to one vote, the supreme court decided for Ferguson where Justice Henry Brown wrote a majority opinion and Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote a dissenting opinion. Justice Henry Brown pointed out that the Fourteenth Amendment did not have anything to do with social equality, the Amendment was referring to equality in the form of law. The seven Justices who decided to vote in favor of Ferguson, did not believe that the separation of race by law “stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority”. (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896) The Justices firmly believed that one case would not change racial prejudice throughout the city or state, much less the country. The majorities opinion stated that if both facilities, in this case the cars on the trains, were actually equal to one another, it would not be unconstitutional to have someone move to the car that is designated to them. Justice Henry Brown concluded with “If one race be inferior to the other social, the Constitution cannot put them upon the same plane.” (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896)

Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote a dissenting opinion as he was the only one who voted against Ferguson in the case. His opinion was that the law in Louisiana assumed that “colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens.” (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896) He wrote how if the country as a whole did not see what was wrong with these types of decisions, it would not be able to move forward from the racism it was going through and how the belief that African Americans were inferior to Whites only promoted the rest of the country to continue acting this way. Justice Harlan’s opinion was that the government could not “permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law.”, and that the constitution must be “color-blind”. (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896)

The case of Plessy v. Ferguson shows a country that was just beginning to change on its ways. Sure, the final vote was seven to one, but that one shows how the country was about to start seeing the racism it had continued even after the civil was had ended and slaves were freed. Justice John Marshall Harlan, along with Homer Adolph Plessy, were some of the first to show the rest of the country how what it was doing was not correct and had to change.

Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)…...

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