Sunday, March 05, 2023

Rosa Parks and Homer Plessy

 Rosa Parks and Homer Plessy

Many have heard about Rosa Parks on December 1, 1955, refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white person. She was arrested, and her action precipitated a boycott of the Montgomery bus system by black residents, being led by, among others, Martin Luther King, Jr. Throughout the south, blacks refused to "move to the back of the bus." In 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court found segregated busing unconstitutional.

However, sixty-three years earlier in New Orleans, Louisiana, Homer Plessy purchased a railroad ticket for a "whites only" first-class coach, boarded the train, was arrested, and found in violation of a Louisiana law that required separate accommodations for black and white people on railroads. This case also made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, but with an outcome less favorable than that obtained by Rosa Parks. The Court, in the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson, established the "separate but equal" principle that provided a constitutional basis for "Jim Crow" laws.    


U.S. Supreme Court

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

Argued April 18, 1896

Decided May 18, 1896

The statute of Louisiana requiring railway companies carrying passengers in their coaches in that State, to provide equal, but separate, accommodations for the white and colored races, by providing two or more passenger coaches for each passenger train, or by dividing the passenger coaches by a partition so as to secure separate accommodations;

and providing that no person shall be permitted to occupy seats in coaches other than the ones assigned o them, on account of the race they belong to;

and requiring the officer of the passenger train to assign each passenger to the coach or compartment assigned for the race to which he or she belong;

and imposing fines or imprisonment upon passengers insisting on going into a coach or compartment other than the one set aide for the race to which he or she belongs;

and conferring upon officers of the train power to refuse to carry on the train passengers refusing to occupy the coach or compartment assigned to them, and exempting the railway company from liability for such refusal,

are not in conflict with the provisions either of the Thirteenth Amendment or of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.


Justice Harlan Dissenting in Plessy v. Ferguson:

"I deny that any legislative body or judicial tribunal may have regard to the race of citizens when the civil rights of those citizens are involved. Indeed, such legislation as that here in question is inconsistent not only with that equality of rights which pertains to citizenship, National and State, but with the personal liberty enjoyed by everyone within the United States."

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

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