In 1892, Homer Plessy was jailed for sitting on a white rail car. Homer was extremely light skinned and could have passed for a white person, but under the law of Louisiana, he wasn’t ‘white enough’.
The case, which eventually made it to the Supreme Court in 1896, centered around Louisiana’s segregation laws and whether they violated the 13th and 14th amendments ensuring equal protection for everyone. These amendments were added to the constitution at the end of the Civil War in order to, theoretically, give everyone equal rights.
In practice, however, blacks and minorities were never given equality, and many Jim Crow laws popped up after the war, especially throughout the south, which legally segregated the races, keeping minorities oppressed, in poverty, and without a political voice.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in one of its most infamous, landmark decisions, ruled that Louisiana’s segregation laws were constitutional. This is where they came up with their “separate but equal” defense of the law. They stated that separate facilities for the races were fine as long as they were equal. Now the farce was on.
The southern states now had legal precedent to bolster their racial laws, claiming that black schools were equal with white schools, or black water fountains were equal with white water fountains. Of course, this was a sham of justice. Nothing was ever equal for the minorities who had to live under the Jim Crow laws.
The decision of Plessy v. Ferguson settled the matter of racial segregation in America until 1954 when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. The Board of Education that separate education facilities for the different races was not constitutional. This led to the integration of schools which started in the 1950s as the civil rights movement got its wings and was ready to take on the establishment.