May 18

This Day in History

General Interest

May 18, 1896:

Supreme Court rules in Plessy v. Ferguson

In a major victory for supporters of racial segregation, the U.S. Supreme Court rules seven to one that a Louisiana law providing for "equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races" on its railroad cars is constitutional. The high court held that as long as equal accommodations were provided, segregation was not discrimination and thus did not deprive African Americans of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

The Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, which indicated that the federal government would officially tolerate the "separate but equal" doctrine, was eventually used to justify segregating all public facilities, including railroad cars, restaurants, hospitals, and schools. However, "colored" facilities were never equal to their white counterparts in actuality, and African Americans suffered through decades of debilitating discrimination in the South and elsewhere because of the ruling. In 1954, Plessy v. Ferguson was struck down by the Supreme Court in their unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

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