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28 September, 2012

Segregation in the US

Filed under: US History — csa1 @ 6:49

Segregated America

After the American Civil War (1861–1865), millions of formerly enslaved African Americans hoped to join the larger society as full and equal citizens. Although some white Americans welcomed them, others used people’s ignorance, racism, and self-interest to sustain and spread racial divisions. By 1900, new laws and old customs in the North and the South had created a segregated society that condemned Americans of color to second-class citizenship.

 

The Promise of Freedom

For formerly enslaved people, freedom meant an end to the whip, to the sale of family members, and to white masters. The promise of freedom held out the hope of self-determination, educational opportunities, and full rights of citizenship.

Now we are free. What do we want? We want education; we want protection; we want plenty of work; we want good pay for it, but not any more or less than any one else…and then you will see the down-trodden race rise up.
—John Adams, a former slave

The Reconstruction Amendments were intended to extend the rights of citizenship to African Americans. The Thirteenth Amendment (1865) abolished slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) extended “equal protection of the laws” to all citizens; and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) guaranteed that the right to vote could not be denied “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

 

White Only: Jim Crow in America

By the late 1870s Reconstruction was coming to an end. In the name of healing the wounds between North and South, most white politicians abandoned the cause of protecting African Americans.

In the former Confederacy and neighboring states, local governments constructed a legal system aimed at re-establishing a society based on white supremacy. African American men were largely barred from voting. Legislation known as Jim Crow laws separated people of color from whites in schools, housing, jobs, and public gathering places.

 

By the 1890s the expression “Jim Crow” was being used to describe laws and customs aimed at segregating African Americans and others. These laws were intended to restrict social contact between whites and other groups and to limit the freedom and opportunity of people of color.

Jim Crow Laws

“It shall be unlawful for a negro and white person to play together or in company with each other in any game of cards or dice, dominoes or checkers.”
—Birmingham, Alabama, 1930

 

“Marriages are void when one party is a white person and the other is possessed of one-eighth or more negro, Japanese, or Chinese blood.”
—Nebraska, 1911

“Separate free schools shall be established for the education of children of African descent; and it shall be unlawful for any colored child to attend any white school, or any white child to attend a colored school.”
—Missouri, 1929

“All railroads carrying passengers in the state (other than street railroads) shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races, by providing two or more passenger cars for each passenger train, or by dividing the cars by a partition, so as to secure separate accommodations.”
—Tennessee, 1891

 

Taking away the vote

Denying black men the right to vote through legal maneuvering and violence was a first step in taking away their civil rights. Beginning in the 1890s, southern states enacted literacy tests, poll taxes, elaborate registration systems, and eventually whites-only Democratic Party primaries to exclude black voters.

 

Poll tax receipt

Poll taxes required citizens to pay a fee to register to vote. These fees kept many poor African Americans, as well as poor whites, from voting. The poll tax receipts displayed here is from Alabama.

The Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866 to combat Reconstruction reforms and intimidate African Americans. By 1870 similar organizations such as the Knights of the White Camelia and the White Brotherhood had sprung up across the South. Through fear, brutality, and murder, these terrorist groups helped to overthrow local reform-minded governments and restore white supremacy, and then largely faded away.

Brown v. Board of Education

In the early 1950′s, racial segregation in public schools was the norm across America. Although all the schools in a given district were supposed to be equal, most black schools were far inferior to their white counterparts.

In Topeka, Kansas, a black third-grader named Linda Brown had to walk one mile through a railroad switchyard to get to her black elementary school, even though a white elementary school was only seven blocks away. Linda’s father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her in the white elementary school, but the principal of the school refused. Brown went to McKinley Burnett, the head of Topeka’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and asked for help. The NAACP was eager to assist the Browns, as it had long wanted to challenge segregation in public schools. With Brown’s complaint, it had “the right plaintiff at the right time.” [4] Other black parents joined Brown, and, in 1951, the NAACP requested an injunction that would forbid the segregation of Topeka’s public schools. [5]

The U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas heard Brown’s case from June 25-26, 1951. At the trial, the NAACP argued that segregated schools sent the message to black children that they were inferior to whites; therefore, the schools were inherently unequal. One of the expert witnesses, Dr. Hugh W. Speer, testified that:

“…if the colored children are denied the experience in school of associating with white children, who represent 90 percent of our national society in which these colored children must live, then the colored child’s curriculum is being greatly curtailed. The Topeka curriculum or any school curriculum cannot be equal under segregation.” [6]

The Board of Education’s defense was that, because segregation in Topeka and elsewhere pervaded many other aspects of life, segregated schools simply prepared black children for the segregation they would face during adulthood. The board also argued that segregated schools were not neccessarily harmful to black children; great African Americans such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and George Washington Carver had overcome more than just segregated schools to achieve what they achieved. [7]

The request for an injunction put the court in a difficult decision. On the one hand, the judges agreed with the expert witnesses; in their decision, they wrote:

Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children…A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. [8]

On the other hand, the precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson allowed separate but equal school systems for blacks and whites, and no Supreme Court ruling had overturned Plessy yet. Because of the precedent of Plessy, the court felt “compelled” to rule in favor of the Board of Education. [9]

Brown and the NAACP appealed to the Supreme Court on October 1, 1951 and their case was combined with other cases that challenged school segregation in South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. The Supreme Court first heard the case on December 9, 1952, but failed to reach a decision. In the reargument, heard from December 7-8, 1953, the Court requested that both sides discuss “the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.” [10] The reargument shed very little additional light on the issue. The Court had to make its decision based not on whether or not the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment had desegregated schools in mind when they wrote the amendment in 1868, but based on whether or not desegregated schools deprived black children of equal protection of the law when the case was decided, in 1954. [11]

On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren read the decision of the unanimous Court:

“We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does…We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. [12]

The Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy for public education, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and required the desegregation of schools across America.

The Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision did not abolish segregation in other public areas, such as restaurants and restrooms, nor did it require desegregation of public schools by a specific time. It did, however, declare the permissive or mandatory segregation that existed in 21 states unconstitutional. [13] It was a giant step towards complete desegregation of public schools. Even partial desegregation of these schools, however, was still very far away, as would soon become apparent.

Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 – January 24, 1993) was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, serving from October 1967 until October 1991. Marshall was the Court’s 96th justice and its first African-American justice.

Before becoming a judge, Marshall was a lawyer who was best known for his high success rate in arguing before the Supreme Court and for the victory in Brown v. Board of Education. He argued more cases before the United States Supreme Court than anyone else in history.[2] He served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit after being appointed by President John F. Kennedy and then served as the Solicitor General after being appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. President Johnson nominated him to the United States Supreme Court in 1967.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 2, 1908, Thurgood Marshall was the grandson of a slave. His father, William Marshall, instilled in him from youth an appreciation for the United States Constitution and the rule of law. After completing high school in 1925, Thurgood followed his brother, William Aubrey Marshall, at the historically black Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania. His classmates at Lincoln included a distinguished group of future Black leaders such as the poet and author Langston Hughes, the future President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, and musician Cab Calloway. Just before graduation, he married his first wife, Vivian “Buster” Burey. Their twenty-five year marriage ended with her death from cancer in 1955.  

 

In 1930, he applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but was denied admission because he was Black. This was an event that was to haunt him and direct his future professional life. Thurgood sought admission and was accepted at the Howard University Law School that same year and came under the immediate influence of the dynamic new dean, Charles Hamilton Houston, who instilled in all of his students the desire to apply the tenets of the Constitution to all Americans.

 

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