May 18, 1896
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the idea of "separate-but-equal" public facilities for blacks in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson.
The case grew out of a disagreement that occurred in Louisiana when a black railroad passenger named Homer Plessy refused to move out of a whites-only car. Plessy was arrested and challenged the state law allowing separate railroad cars for whites and blacks. A Louisiana judge ruled against him, and Plessy appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which also ruled against him.
The Supreme Court justices decided that it was "reasonable" for a state to order that accommodations for blacks on a railway coach could be separate from those for whites as long as they were "equal." In their ruling, the Justices agreed that the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution had guaranteed certain rights to blacks. They insisted, however, that the amendment "could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based on color, or to enforce social ... equality, or (to bring about a mixing) of the two races upon the terms unsatisfactory to either."
In showing its support for the Louisiana law, the nation's highest court approved the idea of legal racial segregation and paved the way for it to be extended into other areas of life. In the statement he wrote opposing the Supreme Court's decision, Justice John Harlan correctly predicted that such segregation laws would just lead to more attacks against the rights of blacks. He also said that they encouraged ideas about racial inferiority.