Segregation was legalized prior to the Civil War, starting with the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sanford. Dred Scott was a slave born in Virginia in 1795. He was sold to a man named Dr. John Emerson who was a US Army Surgeon. Because of his job, he was reassigned often and moved throughout the country to both free and slave states. Though a majority of their time was lived in free states, Emerson leased Scott and his wife’s labor as a profitable service. This was essentially bringing slavery into free states, which was illegal under the Missouri Compromise. Eventually, Emerson was stationed to the South, where he sent for Scott and his wife Harriet to serve his family as slaves. While en route, Harriet gave birth to their daughter Eliza. Since Eliza was born in free territory, she was considered a free citizen. Though Scott could have sued for his family’s freedom upon entering Louisiana, he decided to try and buy it from his owners. The Emerson’s denied this request. After multiple attempts to gain their freedom, Dred Scott was eventually denied this right because “a negro, whose ancestors were imported to the US, and sold as slaves, whether enslaved or free, could not be an American citizen and therefore had no standing to sue in federal court.” This denied African Americans equal access to public facilities, thereby legalizing segregation.
By the 1880s, the interracial Reconstruction government had begun to fail, leading to the return of a White-controlled government. Jim Crow laws dismantled the progressive work set forth by the Reconstruction period. In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson argued the legitimacy of racial segregation all the way to the Supreme Court. Homer Plessy purchased a first class ticket aboard a Louisiana train in which he was asked to leave it and sit in the blacks-only car. After refusing to give up the seat he purchased because of his race, he was removed from the car and sued for violating Louisiana’s Separate Car Act. Under the Jim Crow laws, African Americans were required by law to use facilities designated for their race. Though the government deemed these facilities “separate, but equal,” these facilities reserved for African Americans were almost always lower quality than those for White people, if the facilities even existed at all. Plessy v. Ferguson deemed Louisiana’s Separate Car Act constitutional and further legitimized racial segregation throughout the country.
It was not until 1954 that the Supreme Court recognized how unequal these facilities were. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court repealed this sentiment, arguing schools “separate, but equal” for African-American students were not even remotely equal to White schools. In this groundbreaking case, fought by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court repealed “separate but equal,” outlawing segregated public education facilities for Blacks and Whites at the state level.
Telling A People’s Story displays illustrations from nine books written in regards to segregation. These books include:
Dear Mr. Rosenwald. Written by Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Published by Scholastic Press, 2006.
Freedom School, Yes! Written by Amy Littlesugar. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Published by Philomel Books, 2001.
Goin’ Someplace Special. Written by Patricia McKissack. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Published by Atheneum, 2001.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans. Written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Balzer + Bray, 2013.
Richard Wright and the Library Card. Written by William Miller. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Lee & Low Books, 1997.
Ron’s Big Mission. Written by Rose Blue and Corine J. Naden. Illustrated by Don Tate. Dutton, 2009.
Ruth and the Green Book. Written by Calvin Alexander Ramsey with Gwen Strauss. Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. Carolrhoda, 2010.
She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story. Written by Audrey Vernick. Illustrated by Don Tate. HarperCollins, 2010.
We Troubled the Waters. Written by Ntozake Shange. Paintings by Rod Brown. Amistad/Collins, 2009.
Written by Caroline Bastian