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Plessy v. Ferguson

Citation. 22 Ill.163 U.S. 537, 16 S. Ct. 1138, 41 L. Ed. 256 (1896)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Petitioner, a man who had one eighth African blood and seven-eighths Caucasian blood (Petitioner), filed suit alleging that a statute requiring separate railway cars for whiles and colored races violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution).

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Fourteenth Amendment’s purpose was to enforce the absolute equality of races, but does not purport to abolish distinctions based on color. The Fourteenth Amendment is not violated by laws requiring the separation of the races.


The Petitioner brought an action alleging a statute that required separate railway cars for whites and colored races violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The Petitioner was jailed after refusing to leave a railway car that permitted only whites. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) determined that the purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was only to enforce the equality of the races and this amendment did not encompass abolishing all classifications made on race. The Supreme Court said in this case the standard of review was whether the statute was a reasonable regulation recognizing a large discretion on the part of the legislature. The Supreme Court found the law that separates the races to be reasonable based on established usages, customs and traditions of the country.


Whether a state statute that requires separate railway cars for whites and colored races violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution?


Affirmed. The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution is not violated by a state statute requiring separate railway cars for white and colored races.


The statute in question’s purpose is to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by white people. This statute is not applicable to white and colored people alike, but under the guise of equal accommodation it compels colored people to keep to themselves.


This Supreme Court decision supports the early separate but equal philosophy of the Fourteenth Amendment. Under the doctrine of separate but equal, equality of treatment is accorded when the races are provided substantially equal facilities, even though the facilities are separate.

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