“The object of the [14th] 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 upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.” 

 

Justice Brown, speaking for the majority

 


This case explores the legal concept of equal protection.

In 1890, Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act declaring that all rail companies carrying passengers in Louisiana must provide separate but equal accommodations for White and non-White passengers. The penalty for sitting in the wrong car was a fine of $25 or 20 days in jail. A group of Black citizens joined forces with the East Louisiana Railroad Company to fight the Act. In 1892, Homer Plessy, who was one-eighth Black, purchased a first-class ticket and sat in the White-designated railroad car. Plessy was arrested for violating the Separate Car Act and argued in court that the act violated the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. After losing twice in the lower courts, Plessy took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the previous decisions that racial segregation is constitutional under the "separate but equal" doctrine.



This section is for students. Use the links below to download classroom-ready .PDFs of case resources and activities. 


About the Case

Full Case Summaries

A thorough summary of case facts, issues, relevant constitutional provisions/statutes/precedents, arguments for each side, decision, and case impact.

Case Background and Vocabulary

Important background information and related vocabulary terms.

Visuals

Decision

Learning Activities

The Case

After the Case

This section is for teachers.

Use the links below to access:

  • student versions of the activities in .PDF and Word formats
  • how to differentiate and adapt the materials
  • how to scaffold the activities
  • how to extend the activities
  • technology suggestions
  • answers to select activities  

About the Case


Learning Activities

The Case

 

After the Case

 


Teacher Resources

Teaching Strategies Used

Landmark Cases Glossary

The LandmarkCases.org glossary compiles all of the important vocab terms from case materials. It is provided as a view-only Google Sheet.

Glossary

Planning Time and Activities

If you have one day . . .

  • Read the background summary (•••, ••, •) and answer the questions.
  • Complete the Classifying Arguments Activity. Discuss which arguments the students find most convincing.
  • For homework, have students read the Key Excerpts from the Majority Opinion and Key Excerpts from the Dissenting Opinion and answer the questions. Follow-up the next day by reviewing the questions with students.

If you have two days . . .

  • Complete all activities for the first day (excluding homework). 
  • On the second day, complete 14th Amendment vs. 10th Amendment
  • In advanced classes, complete Interpreting the Constitution (•••). In middle school classes, complete the Supreme Court Case Pack for Middle School Classrooms . If neither of these activities are appropriate for your students, consider having students complete the Crisis in Little Rock activity from Facing History.
  • For homework, have students read the Key Excerpts from the Majority Opinion and Key Excerpts from the Dissenting Opinion and answer the questions. Follow-up the next day by reviewing the questions with students.

If you have three days . . .

  • Complete all activities for the first and second days (including homework).  
  • Complete Newspaper Analysis
  • Complete How a Dissent Can Presage a Ruling.
  • For homework, have students complete the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause Activity.

If you have four days . . .

  • Complete all the activities for the first, second, and third days. 
  • On the fourth day, complete the Photograph Analysis Activity.
  • Complete the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause Activity.

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