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Anonymous
Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesHistory · 1 decade ago

why did homer Plessy challenge a Louisiana law in 1892, and what was the significance of his action?

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  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    The case had to do with segragation.

    On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy boarded a car of the East Louisiana Railroad that was designated by whites for use by white patrons only. Although Plessy was one-eighth black and seven-eighths white, under Louisiana state law he was classified as an African-American, and thus required to sit in the "colored" car. When Plessy refused to leave the white car and move to the colored car, he was arrested and jailed. In his case, Homer Adolph Plessy v. The State of Louisiana, Plessy argued that the East Louisiana Railroad had denied him his constitutional rights under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States. However, the judge presiding over his case, John Howard Ferguson, ruled that Louisiana had the right to regulate railroad companies as long as they operated within state boundaries. Plessy sought a writ of prohibition.

    Plessy took it to the Supreme Court of Louisiana where he again found an unreceptive ear, as the state Supreme Court upheld Judge Ferguson's ruling. Undaunted, Plessy appealed to the United States Supreme Court in 1896. Two legal briefs were submitted on Plessy's behalf. One was signed by Albion W. Tourgée and James C. Walker and the other by Samuel F. Phillips and his legal partner F. D. McKenney. Oral arguments were held before the Supreme Court on April 13, 1896. Only Tourgée and Phillips appeared in the courtroom to speak for the plaintiff (Plessy himself was not present). It would become one of the most famous decisions in American history.

    In a 7 to 1 decision in which Justice David Josiah Brewer did not participate,[2] the Court rejected Plessy's arguments based on the Fourteenth Amendment, seeing no way in which the Louisiana statute violated it. In addition, the majority of the Court rejected the view that the Louisiana law implied any inferiority of blacks, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Instead, it contended that the law separated the two races as a matter of public policy.

    When summarizing, Justice Brown declared, "We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it."

    While the Court did not find a difference in quality between the whites-only and blacks-only railway cars, this was manifestly untrue in the case of most other separate facilities, such as public toilets and cafés, where the facilities designated for blacks were poorer than those designated for whites.

    Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slave owner who experienced a conversion as a result of Ku Klux Klan excesses, and champion of black civil rights, wrote a scathing dissent in which he predicted the court's decision would become as infamous as that in Dred Scott v. Sandford. Harlan went on to say:

    But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. 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.

    The case helped cement the legal foundation for the doctrine of separate but equal, the idea that segregation based on classifications was legal as long as facilities were of equal quality. However, Southern state governments refused to provide blacks with genuinely equal facilities and resources in the years after the Plessy decision. The states not only separated races but, in actuality, ensured differences in quality. In January 1896, Homer Plessy pled guilty to the violation and paid the fine.

    Plessy legitimized the move towards segregation practices begun earlier in the South. Along with Booker T. Washington's Atlanta Compromise address, delivered the same year, which accepted black social isolation from white society, Plessy provided an impetus for further segregation laws. In the ensuing decades, segregation statutes proliferated, reaching even to the federal government in Washington, D.C., which re-segregated during Woodrow Wilson's administration in the 1910s.

    William Rehnquist wrote a memo called "A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases", when he was a law clerk in 1952, during early deliberations that led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision. In his memo, Rehnquist argued that "I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by 'liberal' colleagues but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed." He continued, "To the argument… that a majority may not deprive a minority of its constitutional right, the answer must be made that while this is sound in theory, in the long run it is the majority who will determine what the constitutional rights of the minority are.

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    6 years ago

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  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    A. Famous case Plessy V. Ferguson (seperate but equal doctrine) overturned by Brown vs. Board of Education.

  • James
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago

    The "Citizens' Committee of African Americans and Creoles", a civil rights group, upset by the recently enacted Separate Car Act and other segregation acts, retained Albion Winegar Tourgée, a white New York City attorney, who had previously fought for the rights of African Americans, to lead the challenge against the law.

    In 1892, the Citizens' Committee asked Plessy to agree to violate Louisiana's Separate Car law, which required the segregation of passenger trains by race. On June 7, 1892, Plessy, then twenty-nine years old, and resembling in skin color and physical features a Caucasian or white male, bought a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railroad, running between New Orleans and Covington, the seat of St. Tammany Parish, and sat in the "whites-only" passenger car. When the conductor came to collect his ticket, Plessy told him that he was 7/8 white and that he refused to sit in the "blacks-only" car.

    Plessy was immediately arrested by Detective Chris C. Cain, put into the Orleans Parish jail, and released the next day on a $500 bond.

    Plessy's case was heard before Judge John Ferguson one month after his arrest. Tourgée argued that Plessy's civil rights, as granted by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, had been violated. Ferguson denied this argument and ruled that Louisiana, under state law, had the power to set rules that regulated railroad business within its borders.

    The Louisiana State Supreme Court affirmed the judge's ruling and refused to grant a rehearing, but did allow a petition for writ of error. This petition was accepted by the United States Supreme Court and four years later, in April 1896, arguments for Plessy v. Ferguson began. Tourgée argued that the state of Louisiana had violated the Thirteenth Amendment, which granted freedom to the slaves, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which stated, "no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law."

    On May 18, 1896, Justice Henry Billings Brown delivered the majority opinion in favor of the State of Louisiana. In part, the opinion read, "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 on color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to the either. ... If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of voluntary consent of the individuals."

    The "Separate but Equal" doctrine, enshrined by the Plessy ruling, remained valid until 1954, when it was overturned by the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and later outlawed completely by the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Though the Plessy case did not involve education, it formed the legal basis of separate school systems for the following fifty-eight years.

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