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Plessy v. Ferguson

"separate But Equal"

The "separate but equal" standard established by the Supreme Court in Plessy has become more or less synonymous with institutionalized racial segregation. According to the "separate but equal" doctrine, if a state could prove that blacks enjoyed accommodations equal to those for whites, that state could legally sanction segregated schools and other public facilities, as was the case in most of the South.

The very fact that facilities were separate meant that they were inherently unequal, since the whole purpose of the so-called Jim Crow Laws in the South was to keep black people out of the places enjoyed by whites. But beyond this logical fallacy, in practice the facilities were simply unequal: thus for instance most black schools were housed in sub-standard buildings, and African American students used outdated textbooks. With Sweatt v. Painter (1950), when a token law school for blacks was ruled unequal to facilities for whites, the Court indicated its willingness to overturn the separate but equal principle, as it would do four years later in Brown.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Plessy v. Ferguson - Significance, "separate But Equal", Further Readings