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Plessy vs. Ferguson
Transcript of Plessy vs. Ferguson
Hye-Jin Park Taylor Gabaldon
Who was Plessy?
The Case: Plessy's side
Who was Ferguson?
What did he do?
The Case: Ferguson's side
On June 7, 1892, 30-year-old Homer Adolph Plessy was jailed for sitting in the "White" car of the East Louisiana Railroad. Plessy could easily pass for white but under Louisiana law, he was considered black despite his light complexion and therefore required to sit in the "Colored" car. He was a Creole of Color, a term used to refer to black persons in New Orleans who traced some of their ancestors to the French, Spanish, and Caribbean settlers of Louisiana before it became part of the United States.
What did he do?
When Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act, legally segregating common carriers in 1892, a black civil rights organization decided to challenge the law in the courts. Plessy deliberately sat in the white section and identified himself as black. He was arrested and the case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
Plessy's lawyer argued that segregated facilities violate the Equal Protection Clause. As a fully participating citizen, Plessy should not have been denied any rights of citizenship. He should not have been required to give up any public right or access. The Louisiana law violated the Equal Protection Clause and was, therefore, unconstitutional.
Judge Ferguson ruled that Plessy was guilty, because the state had the right to regulate railroad companies that run only in the state. Mr. Plessy then went to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, because he wanted a second trial to try to end segregation on trains. The court said Mr. Plessy was found guilty, because the Louisiana law did not violate the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. They claimed that Plessy wasn't forced to be a slave and he wasn't being treated unequally, just separately.
Judge John Howard Ferguson, a lawyer from Massachusetts had previously declared the Separate Car Act "unconstitutional on trains that traveled through several states". In Plessy's case, however, Ferguson decided that the state could choose to regulate railroad companies that operated only within Louisiana. He found Plessy guilty of refusing to leave the white car. Plessy appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, which upheld Ferguson's decision. In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States heard Plessy's case and found him guilty once again.
A Massachusetts native, Louisiana judge John Howard Ferguson presided over Homer Adolph Plessy's trial for violating the Louisiana law prohibited integrated rail travel in the state. Ferguson upheld the law.
The Thirteenth Amendment:
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
The Fourteenth Amendment:
The Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included former slaves recently freed. In addition, it forbids states from denying any person "life, liberty or property, without due process of law" or to "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The Court rejected Plessy's arguments based on the Fourteenth Amendment, seeing no way in which the Louisiana statute violated it. The majority of the Court rejected the view that the Louisiana law implied any inferiority of blacks, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Instead, it contended that the law separated the two races as a matter of public policy. The Plessy decision set the precedent that "separate" facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional as long as they were "equal." The "separate but equal" doctrine was quickly extended to cover many areas of public life, such as restaurants, theaters, restrooms, and public schools.