Facts of Plessy v. Ferguson:
Homer Plessy was jailed for sitting in a railroad car designated for whites only. Plessy was in fact seven-eighths white and one-eighth black which by Louisiana law meant he was treated as an African-American and required to sit in the car designated for "colored" patrons. When Plessy lost his initial court case, his appeal made it to the US Supreme Court. The Court ruled 7-1 that the Louisiana law requiring that the races be separated did not violate the thirteenth or fourteenth amendments to the Constitution as long as the facilities were deemed equal.
Significance of Plessy v. Ferguson:
Plessy v. Ferguson is an extremely important court case in that it gave legal standing to the idea of separate but equal. This doctrine required that any separate facilities had to be of equal quality. However, as segregation grew in the South this was often not the case. The Plessy decision would be used as a precedent until 1954 with the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
The lone dissenting voice in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision was John Marshall Harlan. Harlan is an interesting character. He and his family had owned slaves in Kentucky, and during the Civil War he staunchly defended the right to slavery. At the same time, however, he also joined the Union Army to fight to preserve the Union. After the Civil War ended, he changed his attitude on slavery and became a staunch critic of it and defender of civil rights for African-Americans.