Alexander Newton stated in his third law, “With every action, comes an equal and opposite reaction. ” Newton made this statement in the context of motion, but this concept transfers to everyday life. All actions have consequences. In the history of the United States, the leaders made decisions to act. forcing them to live with the consequences of their actions. While some of these decisions were minor and did not affect the public as a whole, others shook the country to its core. The United States’ decision to allow the segregation of African Americans is arguably the most controversial law ever enforced in the United States.
The consequences of this decision are felt today in the wake of the landmark Supreme Court cases Plessy v Ferguson and Brown v Board of Education. Some people today may ask, “When did the segregation of African Americans begin? ” Segregation introduced itself to the United States in the form of slavery. The history of slavery in the United States dates back to the year 1619, when a Dutch crew traded twenty enslaved Africans to the Jamestown settlers in return for food and supplies. The twenty human lives sold into slavery on that day set the precedent in the United States that African American people were inferior to white people.
By 1623, the number of African slaves in the United States was up to over 4,000 people with the numbers continuing to grow as the demand for laborers grew. The number of slaves reached an all time high during the 1860’s with almost four million African Americans in slavery (Tringham, n. d. ). American Northerners then began to realize the epidemic consequences of the decision to allow slavery as tension grew across the country until Confederate troops attacked Fort Sumter, South Carolina in 1861. This action ignited the start of the American Civil War.
Over the course of four years, 617,000 men of both white and black skin were killed, either for the Confederacy or the Union (PBS, n. d. ). Despite the sheer number of casualties, the country would decide to relinquish slavery and take the first step towards freedom. With slavery abolished, it seemed like African Americans would finally be treated as equal citizens, but decisions upholding the Jim Crow laws caused the country to regress. Older than even the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws allowed the segregation of African Americans from the white ation.
Although African Americans were now considered “free” at the end of the war, they were far from being “equal”. The Jim Crow laws allowed business owners and government facilities to legally segregate the black community from the white community. Many African American citizens were very upset with our country’s renewal of the Jim Crow laws, causing the issue to rise to the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction (Kennedy, n. d. ). In the year 1892, a man named Homer Plessy attempted to test the laws of our country by refusing to sit in the colored section of a train.
Plessy was an ideal individual to test the legal system of the country at that time because he was only one eighth African American. Despite his light complexion, he was required to sit in the colored section. Plessy refused to move from his seat, was arrested, and sent to prison. Instead of taking the punishment, he decided to test the segregation precedent in the court system. (Wormser, n. d. ) The case went to the highest level of court in the United States when in 1896, the case Plessy v Ferguson reached the Supreme Court.
Once all of the testimony and closing arguments had been made, the Supreme Court returned from deliberation ruling in favor of the defense. The court determined that segregation was not considered discrimination, as long as the facilities were created equally for white people and people of color. On that day the precedent of separate but equal came into full effect. Plessy sought out to have the segregation law overturned by the Supreme Court, but the decision held, solidified the Jim Crow laws, and segregation remained. When the decision was made to legally enforce segregation, the consequences were immediately felt.
Despite the creation of the precedent “separate but equal”, positive change was not made in the country. The upholding of the Jim Crow laws resulted in separate public facilities such as schools, restrooms, and restaurants (Documents, n. d. ). However, the South did not quite comply with the “separate but equal” precedent. While the facilities were separate, they still were not equal. African American communities and white communities were kept separate, resulting in income differences and residential segregation (Civil Rights, n. d. ).
Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other black families decided to take the issue of segregation back to the courts in the early 1950s. In the fall of 1951, in Topeka, Kansas, Oliver Brown, a middle aged black man, tried to enroll his third grade daughter in the closest white school to fight back against segregation. When his daughter was denied on multiple occasions, he, along with several NAACP members, filed a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education (McBride, 2006). Similarly to the landmark case Plessy v Ferguson, Brown appealed the case until it reached the United States Supreme Court.
With the aid of the plaintiff’s Chief Counsel, Thurgood Marshall, the court returned with a unanimous decision to rule in favor of Brown. Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the majority opinion himself stating, “In the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal has no place” (Street, n. d. ). The effects of the landmark case, Brown v Board of Education, were felt immediately after the majority opinion was stated by the Supreme Court. Public schools across the nation were forced to integrate children of all races, resulting in conflicts, especially in southern schools.
Integration issues eventually led to civil rights protests. Peaceful protests led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were dominating the nation, headlined by his March on Washington and Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech (Constitutional, 2016). The nation was in a state of transition, but many people were not willing to make the change until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 reinforced much of what was said in the case Brown v Board of Education by expanding upon the precedent set in the trial.
Not only did the Civil Rights Act outlaw all forms of segregation towards African Americans, but it gave the Attorney General of the United States the authority to prosecute any institution or individual who disobeyed the act. (Civil Laws, 2015) Even though the issue of segregation has been greatly improved upon since the days of slavery, African Americans still feel discrimination and segregation. School segregation was outlawed in 1954, but more black and latino students attend segregated schools today in comparison to the 1950s. Forty four percent of all public schools in the United States today are non-white schools.
Not only are these schools segregated by race, but also by income. The non-white schools in our nation have a significant amount of students who come from poverty because the communities they live in have been segregated for generations. (Orfield, 2010). Since these schools do not have the funds to purchase materials or pay for qualified teachers, the quality of the education being provided is not adequate. The inadequate education that many black and latino students receive directly affects the chances of being successful in college and the work force.
Segregation in this country continues to destroy the chances of African Americans and Latinos finding success. As the number of non-white students continue to grow, the entire nation’s economy will suffer if the quality of education is not improved for black and latino children. All actions have consequences. When the first black people came to America in 1619, the decision was made to enslave and segregate them, resulting in generations of racism and hate; consequences that our country may never be able to overcome.
Segregation is more than simply separating black people from white people. It has evolved into a perception. All citizens of the United States are considered equal and free, but in today’s society that will never be true. The actions of discriminating and demoralizing African Americans have created the perception that black people are inferior to white people. This consequence is dangerous and obviously cannot be solved overnight. Segregation has been allowed to grow for over a century, and it may take even longer for a problem of that magnitude to be solved.