Plessy was only one-eighths black and seven-eighth

s whiteIn a perfect world, racial bias and discrimination against minorities would not exist. We would all
prefer to live in a color-blind society, but that is simply not reality. The fact is that race has
always mattered in the society we live. Up until the middle century, African-Americans were
locked out of the political process and rendered second-class citizens solely because of their skin
color.

Looking back at a critical time in US history, the end of the civil war, one can see the
steps that had to be taken in order to get where we are today. By reviewing and studying the
past, further steps can be taken in order to ensure mast mistakes will not be repeated.

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As reconstruction drew to a close more than 100 years ago, the several hundred African
Americans elected to serve in Southern State Legislatures and in congress had dwindled to a
handful. Although reversing this pattern of exclusion had taken much of the 21st century. Today,
Congress has a critical mass of 40 black members who comprise the influential Congressional
Black Caucus, and nearly 5, 000 African-Americans hold elective office across the south.

Most people believe this change is the direct result of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,
probably the most effective civil rights law ever enacted. The Act immediately outlawed the
worst Jim Crow laws, such as literacy tests and other devices that kept African Americans out of
the voting booth.

In the 19th century, during the early days of Reconstruction, Congress passed two
Amendments to the constitution; the fourteenth, which granted African-Americans equal rights
under the law, and the fifteenth, granting black men the right to vote. During that era, 22
African-Americans were elected to Congress. The Act that has made such a huge and progressive
change in our society is stated as follows:
A nationwide provision that prohibits the use of voting laws, practices or procedures that
discriminate in either purpose or effect on the basis of race, color, or membership in a minority
language group. All types of voting practices and procedures are covered by Section 2, including
those relating to registration, voting, candidacy qualification, and types of election systems.

Section 4
Sets forth the formula under which a political jurisdiction is “covered” by and, therefore, subject
to the preclearance provisions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 has various dates that trigger coverage, e.g., if a jurisdiction used a “test or device” such
as a literacy test as of November 1, 1964 and less than 50 percent of the age eligible citizens were
registered or voted in 1964, it became a covered jurisdiction. Section 4 further covers a
jurisdiction if the jurisdiction provided English-Only voter registration/election materials,
contained a registered voting age citizenry (or citizens actually voting) of less than 50 percent,
and contained a single language minority group of greater than 5 percent of its citizens.

Covered jurisdictions include the entire States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana,
Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia and counties and towns in California, Colorado,
Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New
York, North Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Section 5
This section was designed to prevent states and other governmental entities with a history of
voting discrimination from continuing to devise new ways to discriminate after the abolishment of
prior discriminatory practices. Section 5 requires certain covered jurisdictions to submit any
proposed voting changes in their election law or practices, prior to implementation, for federal
approval by either the Attorney General of the United States or the Federal District Court for the
District of Columbia. Covered jurisdictions must demonstrate that the proposed voting changes
do not have the purpose or the effect of discriminating against protected racial or language
minorities. This process is referred to as the preclearance process.

Minority Language Groups: The minority language groups covered by the Voting Rights Act are
Native Americans, Asian Americans, Alaska Natives, and persons of Spanish heritage.

Minority Language Provisions: The Voting Rights Act was amended in 1975 and 1992 to include
political jurisdictions with language minority groups and requires such jurisdictions to furnish
bi-lingual assistance to language minority citizens at all stages of the voting process and in all
elections.
Some of the biggest and influential cases that have molded the United States into what it is today
and has continued to be remembered and make progressive changes in the new millennium.


On June 7, 1892, a 30-year-old colored shoemaker named Homer Plessy was jailed for
sitting in the “White” car of the East Louisiana Railroad. Plessy was only one-eighths black and
seven-eighths white, but under Louisiana law, he was considered black and therefore required to
sit in the “Colored” car. Plessy went to court and argued, in Holmer Adloph Plessy vs. State of
Louisiana that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the
Constitution. The judge at the trial was John Howard Ferguson, a lawyer from Massachusetts
who had previously declared the Separate Car Act “unconstitutional on trains that traveled
through several states” . In Plessy’s case, however, he decided that the state could choose to
regulate railroad companies that operated only within Louisiana. He found Plessy guilty of
refusing to leave the white car . Plessy appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, which
upheld Ferguson’s decision. In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States heard Plessy’s case
and found him guilty once again. Speaking for a seven-person majority, Justice Henry Brown
wrote:
“That the Separate Car Act does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment, which
abolished slavery…is too clear for argument…A statute which implies merely a legal
distinction between the white and colored races — a distinction which is founded in the
color of the two races, and which must always exist so long as white men are
distinguished from the other race by color — has no tendency to destroy the legal equality
of the two races…The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce
the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could
not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as
distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms
unsatisfactory to either.”
Justice John Harlan, showed incredible foresight when he wrote
“Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In
respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law…In my opinion, the judgment this day
rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the
…The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or
less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief
that it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficent purposes which the
people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the
Constitution.”
Over time, the words of Justice Harlan rang true. The Plessy decision set the precedent
that “separate” facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional as long as they were “equal.”
The “separate but equal” doctrine was quickly extended to cover many areas of public life, such as
restaurants, theaters, restrooms, and public schools. That is until the Brown vs. Board of
education case..

In the early 1950’s, racial segregation in public schools was the norm across America.

Although all the schools in a given district were supposed to be equal, most black schools were
far inferior to their white counterparts.

In Topeka, Kansas, a black third-grader named Linda Brown had to walk one mile
through a railroad switchyard to get to her black elementary school, even though a white
elementary school was only seven blocks away. Linda’s father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her in
the white elementary school, but the principal of the school refused. Brown went to McKinley
Burnett, the head of Topeka’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP) and asked for help. The NAACP was eager to assist the Browns, as it had long
wanted to challenge segregation in public schools. With Brown’s complaint, it had “the right
plaintiff at the right time.” Other black parents joined Brown, and, in 1951, the NAACP
requested an injunction that would forbid the segregation of Topeka’s public schools.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas heard Brown’s case from June 25-26, 1951. At
the trial, the NAACP argued that segregated schools sent the message to black children that they
were inferior to whites; therefore, the schools were inherently unequal. One of the expert
witnesses, Dr. Hugh W. Speer, testified that:
“…if the colored children are denied the experience in school of associating with white
children, who represent 90 percent of our national society in which these colored children
must live, then the colored child’s curriculum is being greatly curtailed. The Topeka
curriculum or any school curriculum cannot be equal under segregation.”
The Board of Education’s defense was that, because segregation in Topeka and elsewhere
pervaded many other aspects of life, segregated schools simply prepared black children for the
segregation they would face during adulthood. The board also argued that segregated schools
were not necessarily harmful to black children; great African Americans such as Frederick
Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and George Washington Carver had overcome more than just
segregated schools to achieve what they achieved. On the one hand, the judges agreed with the
expert witnesses; in their decision, they wrote:
Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon
the colored children…A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.
Brown and the NAACP appealed to the Supreme Court on October 1, 1951 and their case was
combined with other cases that challenged school segregation in South Carolina, Virginia, and
Delaware. The Supreme Court first heard the case on December 9, 1952, but failed to reach a
decision. In the reargument, heard from December 7-8, 1953, the Court requested that both sides
discuss “the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868.” The
reargument shed very little additional light on the issue. The Court had to make its decision based
not on whether or not the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment had desegregated schools in
mind when they wrote the amendment in 1868, but based on whether or not desegregated schools
deprived black children of equal protection of the law when the case was decided, in 1954.

Due to this breakthrough case in which school integration was recognized, and the
decision of separate but equal was dismissed, schools around the country had to begin the
integration process. One of the first schools to do this was Central High School in Little Rock,
Arkansas. On September 2, 1957, in a televised speech that night, Governor Orval Faubus
explained that he had called the National Guardmen because he had heard that white supremacists
from all over the state were descending on Little Rock. He declared Central off-limits to blacks
and Horace Mann, the black high school, off-limits to whites. He also proclaimed that if the black
students attempted to enter Central, “blood would run in the streets.” Yet on Monday, September
23, the nine black students, often called “The Little Rock Nine” set off for Central High.

Meanwhile, the mob outside the school beat several black reporters there to cover the event. The
reporters were saved when word came that the black students had entered the school. The mob
went crazy. Mothers yelled to their children, “Come out! Don’t stay in there with those niggers!”
Inside the school, the black students became the brunts of various jokes. White students spat on
them, tripped them, and yelled insults. More serious problems were to come. By 11:30, the city
police surrounding the school felt that they could no longer control the mob. The students had to
leave the school through a rear entrance. To ensure that the Little Rock Nine could complete a
full day of classes, President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock. The
101st patrolled outside the school and escorted the black students into the school. In addition, the
black students were assigned a personal guard from the 101st who followed them around the
school. Still, they were subjects of unspeakable hatred. White students yelled insults in the halls
and during class. They beat up the black students, particularly the boys. They walked on the heels
of the blacks until they bled. They destroyed the black students’ lockers and threw flaming paper
wads at them in the bathrooms. They threw lighted sticks of dynamite at Melba Pattillo, stabbed
her, and sprayed acid in her eyes. The acid was so strong that had her 101st guard not splashed
water on her face immediately, she would have been blind for the rest of her life. Eventually eight
of the Little Rock Nine finished the school year and in may Ernest Green became the first black
graduate of Central High, the only minority student in his 602-member class.

So the main question now is – Has Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.s dream been realized?
Well, in my opinion it has as far as overcoming integration/segregation problems. As far as
completely accepting everyone for who they are, I believe has still yet to be accomplished. For
example, although the high school that I graduated from was very much diverse, looking at the set
up of the school would imply a very segregated place. By observing at lunch time, a person
would see all of the cliques of friends to be predominately of the same racial background. The
white kids for the most part, brought sack lunches and sat in the grassy area in the back of the
school, while the black kids ate on the benches on the side of the school or in the front. Not
implying that all of the groups consisted of the same race, but for the most part the majority did.

And I am no less guilty than the next for surrounding myself in a clique that consisted of only
Eritreans. So what are the reason for this unconscious selecting of friends of the same
background? Well for me, it was mostly a comfort level. Growing up in a white community and
attending predominately all white schools in my early school years I tended to hang out with the
white kids in elementary school. But in that clique I felt like I didnt completely belong because I
was the only person of color and felt like I didnt completely fit their clique type. So in middle
school, a little bit more diverse, I decided to make more friends with the black kids. That didnt
work to well either because although I am African-American, our backgrounds were very much
dissimilar. Also, in both instances, even with the black kids, they would make fun of Africa as if
it was a large mass of jungle with barbarians running around. So when I entered high school, I
found that many Eritreans attended, and quickly joined their social group and felt fully accepted.

It was like a comfort level, because we were alike in our background and culture. I really do
believe that is why so many people, adults and kids alike, stay in their own racial group. But
didnt Martin Luther Kings speech clearly state …one day the sons of former slave owners, and
sons of former slaves will sit together at the table of brotherhood..? For the most part, I do
believe we have come a long way since the civil rights movement, but at the same time there is
still a lot of ground to be broken in order to finish the path of brotherhood that Martin Luther
King and so many other civil rights activists started.