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At the Bus Station in Durham, North Carolina, photograph by Jack Delano, May 1940

Racial segregation of transportation, schools, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and other facilities was well established by the twentieth century, particularly in Southern states. An 1896 Supreme Court decision, Plessy vs. Ferguson, had sanctioned segregation, finding that separate but equal public facilities for blacks and whites did not violate the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

At the Bus Station in Durham, North Carolina

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