African Americans have had a long struggle in achieving the freedoms deserved by all citizens of the United States. The monumental cases of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) had an undeniable impact on the civil rights of African Americans. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 also played important roles in the civil rights that we enjoy in our country today. As televisions were becoming a household item during this time the effects of media were notable and widespread, as well.
The “Equal Protection Clause” in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution required states to provide all people in their jurisdiction equal protection under the law and acted as the basis for the Plessy v. Ferguson case. The “separate but equal” clause was born out of the Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896 and allowed for segregation on intrastate railroads as long as equal accommodations for African Americans and Caucasians were made available. It was determined by the majority that while politically equal, African Americans were socially unequal and therefore no amendment was violated in upholding the 1890 Louisiana Separate Car Act, the Act that Plessy v. Ferguson attempted to have found arbitrary. This judgment served as the legal justification for segregation for better than fifty years to come. The one dissenting vote came from Justice John Marshall Harlan, who feared that the decision would be as infamous as that of Dred Scott v. Sandford which held that slaves were not protected under the constitution. In his dissention Justice Harlan argued that the ruling was degrading to African Americans and acted as a “badge of servitude”.
The decision in Plessy v. Ferguson was eventually overturned following a series of Supreme Court cases dealing with educational equality among the races. The battle being fought was directly related to individual constitutional rights and was therefore put before the judiciary. The landmark decision came in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954, when it was decided that segregation was in direct opposition to the “equal protection clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment. Thurgood Marshall, Linda Brown’s lead attorney in the case and a member of the NAACP, argued that the practice of segregation by law implied inferiority and was harmful to African American children. It was also his contention that separate schools for whites and non-whites resulted in low self-esteem among minority students while simultaneously providing them an unequal education. It was concluded unanimously that the “separate but equal” mandate was unacceptable in schools.
Desegregation proved challenging and the courts had to help push matters along. In the decision that became known as Brown II the court delegated desegregation to district courts with orders that desegregation occur "with all deliberate speed". The ambiguity of the decision allowed for...