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Countering Segregation In The United States

1848 words - 7 pages

Countering Segregation
Imagine living in a country that is run by segregation laws. In 1896 the United States Supreme Court ruled that a Louisiana law mandating separate but equal accommodations for White Americans and African Americans on intrastate railroads was constitutional. In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, Homer Plessy could pass as a white man even though under Louisiana law he is legally considered “colored”. This is due to his the fact that he has one-eighth African blood in him, which allowed Louisiana law to prevent him from sitting on a passenger coach reserved for whites only. The majority’s decision was one that allowed states to declare their own requirements, which brands a person as “colored”. The argument made by the Tourgée, Plessy’s lawyer, was, that, belonging to one race or other was a form of property and to deny reputation to that race is considered taking away property without due process of law. After the case a single justice, Justice Harlan, wrote the dissent on the majority’s decision that racial classifications were not inherently unconstitutional. In Harlan’s dissent he argues against the majority decision by sticking to the written words of the constitutional, and not impose on the document his sense of the natural order. Ultimately, Harlan’s counterargument reveals that the segregation laws are inconsistent with the constitution.
According to Brook Thomas, the only way to over come a law that was created to base racism not just off of the color of your skin, but now the percentage of colored blood an individual has, is education. By stating that, he is trying to display the difference between the separate but equal accommodations for education between “whites” and “coloreds”, and how it creates a sense of double consciousness in children of the inferior race. But, Thomas wrote more about the history of the case and other documents that dealt with the case. He describes the statute in such a way that it emphasizes the ridiculous obstacles an entire race of his fellow citizens must overcome on a daily basis. “Though they have all the legal rights that belong to white citizens, but yet declared to be criminals, liable for imprisonment if they ride in a public coach occupied by citizens of the white race” (58). Thomas depicts an image of a constitution that can be broken by the states and an ineffective government that can do nothing to regulate the states.
Consequently, Justice Harlan, already skeptical of the other Justices that rely on natural law or on notions of reasonableness rather than on the written word, goes out to prove his disagreement by poisoning the well. As Brooke Thomas wrote “Harlan tries his best to stick to the written words of the constitution to understand the law. “A crucial difference between the two justices, Brown and Harlan, is that Brown relied on the sense of ‘the nature of things’ to decide what the constitution meant” (35), alleged by Thomas. Poisoning the well of the majorities’...

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