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“In 1892, We Were Here . . . When a New Orleanian Tried to Prove that Justice is Color Blind,” drawing by John Churchill Chase, New Orleans States-Item, 1977

Homer Plessy, a black New Orleanian, entered a whites-only train car to challenge segregation laws in 1892, but the Supreme Court upheld segregation in separate but equal facilities in Plessy vs. Ferguson. In 1954 the Supreme Court reversed this position, stating in Brown vs. Board of Education that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” That decision gave impetus to a burgeoning civil rights movement.

The Historic New Orleans Collection

When a New Orleanian Tried to Prove that Justice is Color Blind

Congress and the Court Secure Civil Rights

Congress and the Supreme Court have used their distinct but overlapping powers to define the legal basis of civil rights. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, violent intimidation and local Jim Crow laws continued to restrict black people, particularly in the South. Civil rights activists challenged those conditions, and in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional. Over the next decade, Congress passed landmark legislation to end segregation and ensure all citizens may freely exercise their civil rights.

We must come to see with the jurists of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our constitutional and God-given rights.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter From Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963