How Segregation Was Ruled Illegal in U.S.

Plessy V. Ferguson Decisin Reversed

USA, Kansas, Topeka, White and Colored segregation signs
Plessy v. Ferguson. Walter Bibikow/ The Image Bank/ Getty Images

In 1896, the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case determined that "separate but equal" was constitutional. The opinion of the Supreme Court stated, "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, or re-establish a state of involuntary servitude." The decision remained the law of the land until it was overturned by the Supreme Court in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954.

Plessy v. Ferguson

The Plessy v. Ferguson legitimized the numerous state and local laws that had been created around the United States after the Civil War. Across the country, blacks and whites were legally forced to use separate train cars, separate drinking fountains, separate schools, separate entrances into buildings, and much more. Segregation was the law.

Segregation Ruling Reversed

On May 17, 1954, the law was changed. In the landmark Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson ​decision by ruling that segregation was "inherently unequal." Although the Brown v. Board of Education was specifically for the field of education, the decision had a much broader scope.

Brown v. Board of Education

Although the Brown v. Board of Education decision overturned all the segregation laws in the country, the enactment of integration was not immediate. In actuality, it took many years, much turmoil, and even bloodshed to integrate the country. This monumental decision was one of the most important rulings handed down by the United States Supreme Court in the 20th century.