RACISM AND AMERICAN SOCIETY

It is against law if someone is treated unfairly because of his race, skin colour, ancestry, nationality or ethnic background. However, if we look to the past we will find a long line of racist laws that were once prevalent in many societies and widely accepted by people. American society is an example of such a society were these laws were prevailing . Throughout American history, white Americans were differently treated than non-white Americans and white Americans from time to time have enjoyed legally sanctioned privileges and rights. Racism which existed in American society against various ethnic groups has displayed itself in a number of ways, including genocide, slavery, segregation etc.


Although the United States Declaration of Independence, 1776 declared that “All men are created equal,” slavery existed in United States of America and was also legal until the Civil War. At the end of civil war in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to United States Constitution was passed which abolished the slavery. In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment to United States Constitution was passed which in its equal protection clause provided “nor shall any State … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”. Thus, the Fourteenth Amendment strengthened the legal rights of newly freed slaves by mandating that persons in similar situations be treated equally by the law. The legal rights of newly freed slaves were further strengthened by the Fifteenth Amendment to United States Constitution passed in 1870 which prohibited discrimination in voting rights of citizens on the basis of “race, colour, or previous condition of servitude.”
Even after the abolition of the slavery by these civil war Amendments, black people were treated differently than whites in many parts of the country. In fact many states adopted laws that were discriminatory like Jim Crow Laws.


Jim Crow laws were state law which were based on the theory of white supremacy. The Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in all public facilities in the Southern United States. In other words, the Jim Crow laws pronounced that blacks and whites could not use the same public facilities, ride the same buses, use the same public toilets, attend the same schools, etc. In 1890s the Jim Crow laws that provided for discrimination were directly challenged in court.


PLESSYY V. FERGUSON, 163 U.S. 537.
In this case the Louisiana’s Separate Car Act, 1890 was challenged. The law required that all railways should provide “equal but separate accommodations” of train cars for white and black American passengers. The case originated in 1892 when an African-American man Homer Plessy took a seat in a car reserved for white passengers and he refused to move to a car for non-whites. He was arrested for violating the Louisiana law. Plessy challenged the Louisiana law on the ground that this law separating blacks from whites on trains is unconstitutional as it violated the “equal protection clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In 1896, this case reached to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court by a majority of 8:1 upheld the validity of Louisiana’s Separate Car Act, 1890 and laid down the “separate but equal” doctrine. The court ruled that racial segregation in public facilities are legal if the facilities for whites and blacks are equal.
Thus, the Supreme Court’s decision in case of Plessy v. Ferguson gave a legal sanction to Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial discrimination.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v Ferguson, many people continued to demand the abolition of Jim Crow and other racially discriminatory laws. Finally it was in case of Brown v. Board of Education, where the United States Supreme court ruled that laws enforcing racial segregation of public schools are unconstitutional. This case was one of the keystone of the civil rights movement and established the important precedent that “separate but equal” facilities were not in fact equal at all.


BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION, 347 U.S. 483.
The case emerged in 1951 when the lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Kansas against the public school which refused to enroll daughter of local black resident Oliver Brown at the white elementary school closest to their home. Brown in the lawsuit contended that segregation of school violated the “equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment. The US District Court in Kansas agreed that public school segregation had a “detrimental effect upon the coloured children and contributed to a sense of inferiority” but still upheld “ separate but equal” doctrine.
When Brown’s case and four other cases related to school segregation come before the United States Supreme Court in 1952, the court consolidated them into a single case under the name Brown v. Board of Education.
The United States Supreme Court by unanimous decision weakened the decision of Plessy v. Ferguson by ruling that racial segregation of public schools is unconstitutional as it is violative of equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court ruled that the “separate but equal” notion is inappropriate for American public schools and educational facilities.
Though the Supreme Court’s Decision in Brown v. Board of Education did not achieve the desegregation on it’s own but this decision created a way for integration and gave impetus to the civil rights movement.


ROSA PARKS INCIDENT
A year after Brown’s decision, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama Bus in 1955. Rosa Parks was arrested for violating the law of segregation which required black people to give up seats to white people when the bus was full. Rosa Parks arrest provided an impetus to Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 381 days. This boycott of public buses by local blacks marked the country’s first large-scale demonstration against segregation and led the United States Supreme Court to declare that the racial segregation of public buses is unconstitutional.


CONCLUSION
Though United States outlawed the slavery in 1865 and despite the constitutional measures aiming to protect racial minorities, racist laws were still prevailing there until 1965.
The Courts in United State in many cases upheld the validity of these racist laws but it was the Brown’s case were United States Supreme Court for the first time declare the racist laws unconstitutional. Thus, the brown case started the process of ending racial segregation and other forms of racial discrimination in United State. Although the Jim Crow laws and other discriminatory laws have no relevance at present times, racism is still practiced in American society to some extent. George Floyd murder case reflects the same.


REFRENCES

1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstruction_Amendments
2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_Protection_Clause
3. http://web.archive.org/web/20220413034147/https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/history-brown-v-board-education-re-enactment
4. https://www.whsd.org/ourpages/auto/2017/11/13/65591097/Jim%20Crow%20Lawspages.pdf
5. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/brown-v-board-of-education-of-topeka

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