The Aftermath of the Plessy v. Ferguson Ruling
After the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Plessy v. Ferguson case, the racial climate of the South quickly worsened for African Americans. The significance of the decision was that the Supreme Court ruled that it wasn’t unconstitutional for segregated transportation or public services, as long as they were equal. This separate but equal statute ignited the prominence of Jim Crow laws like never before.
“From 1889 to 1899, lynchings in the South averaged 187.5 per year" (1)
The rise of Jim Crow also meant the rise of white terror groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Jim Crow laws went beyond separate railroad cars or designated rear seating on buses, states now instituted openly discriminatory policies that infringed African Americans’ civil rights. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and the fear of lynching prevented Southern black voters from voting during the early 20th century elections. Public education for African Americans was also segregated, and despite the separate but “equal” standard of Jim Crow South, black schools were significantly underfunded and understaffed, failing to treat African Americans equally under the law. (2)
Despite the inequities the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling yielded for African Americans, the case kindles civil rights activism within the African American community that lasted decades later. The Plessy v. Ferguson case united the black community. There was no class distinction with segregation. (3) Plessy and Desdunes were both middle-class businessmen, fully capable of affording a first-class ticket, however, the Separate Car Act distinguishes by race, not class. This meant that blacks were viewed equally, no preferential treatment was given. As a result, middle and working-class blacks worked together during the Civil Rights era to protest the Jim Crow law of the South and boycott discriminatory organizations.
After the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court ruling legalized the segregation of railroad cars, the "separate but equal" doctrine was adopted all throughout the South. Plessy's case became a precedent, used to justify segregation policies and validate Jim Crow practices all throughout the South and some northern states as well.
The article titled "Jim Crow Again." reports how in Charleston, North Carolina has adopted the separate car policy and now argues that separate accommodations should be made in other areas of public life.
"I there must be Jim Crow cars on the railroads, there should be Jim Crow cars on the street railways, Also, on all passenger boats. There is no provision in the bill for Jim Crow boats, or Jim Crow apartments on boats, and there is certainly as much or more need for them as for Jim Crow cars." (4)
The reporter goes on to explain, " THere should be a Jim Crow section in the jury box, and a separate Jim Crow dock and witness stand in every Court--and a Jim Crow Bible for colored witnesses to kiss." (4)
The "separate but equal" doctrine allowed the legal segregation of African Americans in all ways imaginable by their white lawmakers and law enforcers. Everything in society is now a reasonable measure to exclude African Americans from. The Plessy ruling offsets decades of harsh isolation and inhumane treatment of blacks, but it is now legally acceptable through the interpretation of the Constitution thanks to the Supreme Court's decision.
There is a mass increase in the lynching and terror of blacks throughout Jim Crow South. In the 1899 New Orleans news article, "Mob Law in the South, white terrorist groups murder blacks in mass numbers. The publication reports the recent lynchings in cities throughout the South as if they were sports highlights.
Urofsky, Melvin I. “Homer Plessy and Jim Crow.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 21 Aug. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/event/Jim-Crow-law/Homer-Plessy-and-Jim-Crow.
Luxenberg, Steve. Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and Americas Journey from Slavery to Segregation. W.W. Norton Et Company, 2019.
Kelley, Blair Murphy. "A Right to Ride": African American Citizenship, Identity, and the Protest over Jim Crow Transportation. 2003.
"Keep the Color Line." Milwaukee Journal [Milwaukee, Wisconsin] [May 18, 1896]: n.p. 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. Web. 19 Nov. 2019.
4"Jim Crow Cars, Again." Weekly News and Courier [Charleston, South Carolina] 26 Jan. 1898: 4. 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. Web. 25 Nov. 2019.
"Mob Law in the South." Morning Oregonian [Portland, Oregon] 12 Aug. 1899: 2. 19th Century U.S. Newspapers. Web. 25 Nov. 2019.