Tag Archive for 'Fourteenth Amendment'

On This Day: The Thirteenth Amendment

On December 6, 1865—147 years ago today—the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, abolishing slavery in the United States.

It had been a long time coming. Nearly three years earlier, in January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in the rebellious states. (Lincoln had also issued a Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation several months earlier, on September 22, 1862.) Before the end of the Civil War in 1865, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to formally abolish slavery. It would take months, though, before the Amendment was ratified—and President Lincoln, who had fought tirelessly for the Amendment, was assassinated before he could see it ratified.

On December 6, 1865, the amendment finally received the necessary number of state ratifications. Consisting of two sections, the Amendment read as follows:

Section 1: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Amendment was one of three Reconstruction Era Constitutional amendments. Nineteen months later, the Fourteenth Amendment would be ratified, extending the liberties of the Bill of Rights to former slaves. And, in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment would grant African American men the right to vote. To learn more about the three Reconstruction Amendments, check out this summary from the United States Senate’s website. The Our Documents initiative also provides summaries and the full text of all three amendments: Thirteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and Fifteenth Amendment.

To learn more about the Thirteenth Amendment, and to view a digitized copy, check out this page from the National Archives.

For a chronological list and summary of Reconstruction Era policies, check out this page from the Digital History collection. For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, check out this page from Black Americans in Congress, hosted by the United States House of Representatives’ website.

To learn more about the Thirteenth Amendment, check out Alexander Tsesis’ The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom: A Legal History (NYU Press 2004), and his edited volume, The Promises of Liberty: The History and Contemporary Relevance of the Thirteenth Amendment (Columbia University Press 2010).

To learn more about the abolition of slavery, check out Michael Vorenberg’s Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Cambridge University Press 2001).

The recently released movie, Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day Lewis as President Lincoln, was co-written by the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and focuses on Lincoln’s drive to pass the Thirteenth Amendment.  To learn more about President Lincoln’s work toward emancipation, check out Harold Holzer and Sara Vaughn Gabbard’s edited volume, Lincoln and Freedom: Slavery, Emancipation, and the Thirteenth Amendment (Southern Illinois University Press 2007). For more on the Emancipation Proclamation, check out William A. Blair and Karen Fisher Younger’s edited volume, Lincoln’s Proclamation: Emancipation Reconsidered (UNC Press 2009).

Remembering Buchanan v. Warley

On November 5, 1917—95 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Buchanan v. Warley took a strong stand against racial discrimination when the justices unanimously invalidated a Louisville, Kentucky, ordinance that prohibited the sale of property to African Americans.

As increasing numbers of African Americans migrated from rural to urban areas, white legislators in the South and Midwest passed legislation mandating housing segregation. The Louisville ordinance prohibited African Americans from occupying lots on blocks where the majority of the residences were occupied by whites.

Charles Buchanan (white) sold his house to William Warley (African American). Warley refused to pay the full price of the property, arguing that the ordinance, by prohibiting him from occupying the property, made it less valuable. The case made its way to the Supreme Court in 1916.

The Supreme Court ruled the ordinance unconstitutional on the basis of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Fourteenth Amendment protects life, liberty, and property from invasion by the States without due process of law. Property is more than the mere thing which a person owns. It is elementary that it includes the right to acquire, use, and dispose of it.

While the justices noted the importance of promoting the public peace, they submitted that this could not be done at the price of denying rights created or protected by the Constitution of the United States.

That there exists a serious and difficult problem arising from a feeling of race hostility which the law is powerless to control, and to which it must give a measure of consideration, may be freely admitted. But its solution cannot be promoted by depriving citizens of their constitutional rights and privileges.

The implications were twofold: whites had the right to manage their property as they wished, and African Americans had the same rights. While the decision did not bring an end to residential segregation (which, in fact, would become more common in coming decades through the use of racially restrictive covenants), it did prevent local and state governments from passing certain housing segregation laws, and paved the way for future legislative struggles against discrimination and segregation.

To read the full text of the decision, check out this page from Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

To learn more, check out this post from the Supreme Court of the United States’ blog, and this page from the Library of Congress.

For more about the fight against housing discrimination, click here. It would take decades of legal wrangling before racially restrictive covenants would finally be declared unconstitutional and housing opportunity would finally begin to be equalized (see, for example, the 1940 case Hansberry v. Lee, the 1948 case Shelley v. Kraemer and the 1968 Fair Housing Act).

To see a descriptive timeline of the fair housing struggle, click here. To learn more about racially restrictive covenants, click here.

To learn more about the struggle against housing discrimination, check out John M. Goering’s edited volume, Housing Desegregation and Federal Policy, available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

On This Day: The Civil Rights Cases

On October 15, 1883—129 years ago today—the Supreme Court struck a major blow to the fight for equality when it ruled the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional, rejecting the argument that it was authorized under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Eight years earlier, in a last-ditch effort to protect the rights African Americans had gained in the decade following the Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 signaled an important step in the fight for equality, stating:

Be it enacted, that all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude.

The Act imposed punishments on those who violated its provisions and gave exclusive jurisdiction to federal courts to rule on cases related to the Act.

Unfortunately, this Act was rarely enforced. And then, in 1883, the cases of five African Americans who had been denied accommodations in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 were consolidated into one issue for the Supreme Court to review: the Civil Rights Cases.

Eroding the progress made on civil rights in the previous ten years, the Supreme Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give the federal government the power to regulate the Act. Claiming that the issues discussed in the Civil Rights Cases only constituted private wrongs, the Court held that the Amendment  gave Congress the right only to enforce state action. The justices further argued that the Constitution did not prohibit discrimination, but rather only prohibited involuntary servitude.

Justice John Harlan famously dissented, arguing that “such discrimination is a badge of servitude, the imposition of which congress may prevent under its power, through appropriate legislation, to enforce the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment.”

Those who opposed the decision worried that it represented a step toward legalized segregation. They were correct: over the next eight decades African Americans saw their rights further eroded. Segregation became the rule rather than the exception in the workplace, in housing, and in public life. Not until the second half of the twentieth century would the rights so clearly stated in 1875 become the law of the land once more.

To learn more about the Civil Rights Cases, check out this page from PBS and this page from OYEZ. To read the Supreme Court’s 1883 ruling against the Civil Rights Act, click here.

To read the New York Times article printed one day after the Court’s decision, click here.

Justice John Harlan, who wrote the famous dissent, would later produce another famous dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson.

To read the text of the four Reconstruction Era civil rights acts passed by Congress, the last of which was the Civil Rights Act of 1875, click here. For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, click here.

To learn more about race relations during this period, check out J. Michael Martinez’s Coming for to Carry Me Home: Race in America from Abolitionism to Jim Crow (Rowman & Littlefield 2011).

To learn more about the erosion of civil rights, check out Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Anchor 2009).

To learn more about the history of civil rights and the Supreme Court, check out Abraham L. Davis and Barbara Luck Graham’s The Supreme Court, Race, and Civil Rights: From Marshall to Rehnquist (Sage 1995).

On This Day: The Fourteenth Amendment

On July 9, 1868—144 years ago today—the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, extending the liberties of the Bill of Rights to former slaves.

One of three Reconstruction Era amendments, the Fourteenth Amendment granted to all Americans the right to equal protection and due process of law, greatly expanding the protection of civil rights.

The Amendment stated, in part:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Although the passage of the Amendment certainly was monumental, a narrow interpretation was often taken in the ensuing decades, resulting in the continuation of restricted rights for African Americans. For years, citizens and politicians battled within the courts, in legislative arenas, and in American society at large to make these liberties truly a reality.

The Fourteenth Amendment was cited in Supreme Court cases involving interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia, 1967) and school desegregation (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).

More recently, the Fourteenth Amendment has been used to fight for women’s reproductive rights (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992) and to overturn legalized discrimination against gay and lesbian individuals (Romer v. Evans, 1996).

To learn more—and to read the full text of the document—check out this page from the Our Documents initiative, a collaborative effort of National History Day, the National Archives and Records Administration, and USA Freedom Corps.

This site from the Library of Congress provides links to documents related to the passage and scope of the Fourteenth Amendment, including several newspaper articles available through Chronicling America.

To learn more, check out William Nelson’s The Fourteenth Amendment: From Political Principle to Judicial Doctrine (Harvard University Press, 1998) and Michael Perry’s We the People: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Supreme Court (Oxford University Press, 2001).

To learn more about the three Reconstruction Amendments, check out this summary from the United States Senate’s website. The Our Documents initiative (cited above) also provides summaries and the full text of all three amendments: Thirteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and Fifteenth Amendment.

For a chronological list and summary of Reconstruction Era policies, check out this page from the Digital History collection. For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, check out this page from Black Americans in Congress, hosted by the United States House of Representatives’ website.

To learn about one of the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment, check out Hans Trefousse’s Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian (UNC Press, 1997).

Remembering NAACP v. Alabama

On June 30, 1958—54 years ago today—the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Alabama took a stand in favor of individuals’ constitutional rights, asserting that Alabama’s demand for the NAACP’s membership lists violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In 1956, Alabama Attorney General John Patterson sued the NAACP, claiming that the civil rights organization violated a state law which required out-of-state companies to file their corporate charter with state officials and designate an agent to act on the company’s behalf.

After the NAACP refused to capitulate to a state judge’s orders to cease operations and produce records—including the names and addresses of its members—the organization was fined $10,000. While the NAACP was willing to turn over some records, it was unwilling to produce the membership lists.

After the Alabama Supreme Court twice refused to review the case, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments.

In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that Alabama’s demand violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The disclosure of membership lists, the Court argued, would suppress legal association among the group’s members—in fact, earlier disclosures of member identities had led to loss of employment, physical coercion, and other hostile treatment.

The ruling read, in part:

Effective advocacy of both public and private points of view particularly controversial ones, is undeniably enhanced by group association, as this Court has more than once recognized by remarking upon the close nexus between the freedoms of speech and assembly. . . It is beyond debate that freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the “liberty” assured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which embraces freedom of speech. . .

. . . This court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations. . . Inviolability of privacy in group associations may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.

The Court did not rule on the legality of the NAACP’s work in Alabama, but it did overturn the contempt order and the fine. The decision signaled an important acknowledgement of the freedom of association, and paved the way for future success in the struggle against racial discrimination.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

To listen to the oral argument, click here.

To read a news article printed at the time, click here.

To learn more, click here and here.

To learn more about the NAACP, click here.

To learn about the controversial John Patterson, who became Governor one year after NAACP v. Alabama, check out Gene Howard’s Patterson for Alabama: The Life and Career of John Patterson (University of Alabama Press, 2008).

To learn about African Americans’ struggle for civil rights during the next decade in Alabama, check out Frye Gaillard’s Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement that Changed America (University of Alabama Press, 2004) and Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail (University of Alabama Press, 2010).

On This Day: Planned Parenthood v. Casey

On June 29, 1992—only twenty years ago today—the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey simultaneously reaffirmed and weakened its prior ruling in Roe v. Wade, ruling that although the state is prohibited from banning most abortions, it does have the authority to impose some regulations.

Ten years earlier, Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act put into effect regulations requiring women to give “informed consent” before abortions, forcing upon women a 24-hour waiting period, and requiring minors to obtain informed consent from a parent. Married women were required to inform their husband of their intention to abort the pregnancy, and abortion clinics were required to report themselves to the state.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania sued the state, arguing that the Act violated the provisions of Roe v. Wade.

A split court (5-to-4) held that the essential holdings of Roe v. Wade should be affirmed; however the court also upheld the majority of the Act’s provisions as constitutional, arguing that states seek to protect the health of the mother and the life of the fetus. For example, the 24 hour waiting period was held as constitutional because it was not perceived as an “undue burden.” Likewise, the parental consent provision for minors was upheld. The spousal consent provision, however, was declared unconstitutional.

The decision read, in part:

Constitutional protection of the woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy derives from the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. . .

Men and women of good conscience can disagree, and we suppose some always shall disagree, about the profound moral and spiritual implications of terminating a pregnancy, even at its earliest stage. Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code. The underlying constitutional issue is whether the State can resolve these philosophic questions in such a definitive way that a woman lacks all choice in the matter, except perhaps in those rare circumstances in which the pregnancy is itself a danger to her own life or health, or is the result of rape or incest.

It is conventional constitutional doctrine that where reasonable people disagree the government can adopt one position or the other. . . That theorem, however, assumes a state of affairs in which the choice does not intrude upon a protected liberty.

The case came nearly two decades after Roe v. Wade gave women the right to terminate their pregnancies, and 27 years after Griswold v. Connecticut protected a couple’s right to privacy concerning their reproductive decisions. While the 1992 ruling, in its affirmation of the basic principle of Roe v. Wade, acknowledged a woman’s right to make choices about her own body, it also represented a regression in women’s rights, as seen through its provisions concerning the state’s authority to regulate women’s reproductive health.

The ambiguous “undue burden” test has proved difficult to apply, and the ruling, which received mixed reactions at the time, remains controversial to this day.

To read the opinion, delivered by three justices, click here.

To listen to the oral argument and the opinion announcement, click here.

To read a New York Times article published the following day, click here.

For more information, click here.

To read Planned Parenthood’s description of Pennsylvania’s law, click here.

For a broader discussion of reproductive rights, check out Marc Stein’s Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe (UNC Press, 2010), and The Abortion Rights Controversy in America: A Legal Reader (UNC Press, 2004).

Nancy Ehrenreich’s edited volume, The Reproductive Rights Reader (NYU Press, 2008) offers articles and legal cases that provide context to this debate.

On This Day: Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

On June 28, 1978—34 years ago today—a split Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 that although affirmative action admissions policies were often constitutional, the University of California Medical School at Davis had violated the Fourteenth Amendment when it denied admission to a white man simply because 16 of the 100 seats were reserved for non-white students.

Allan Bakke, a white man, had twice sought admission to the medical school, and had been rejected both times. His college GPA and test scores exceeded those of any of the 16 minority students admitted; however, the University’s affirmative action program automatically set aside each of those 16 seats for non-white students.

The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where Bakke contended that the University had violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause by refusing him admission solely on the basis of his race.

The Supreme Court found 5-to-4 in favor of Bakke; however, the ruling was not clear-cut. Four of the justices contended that the racial quota system was a violation of civil rights; four others argued that it was constitutionally permissible. Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., was torn. He contended that the use of race was valid as one of several admissions criteria, but ultimately broke the tie in favor of Bakke, arguing that the University’s rigid use of this system was unconstitutional.

In his opinion, with which four other justices concurred, Powell wrote:

. . . it is evident that the Davis special admission program involves the use of an explicit racial classification never before countenanced by this Court. It tells applicants who are not Negro, Asian, or Chicano that they are totally excluded from a specific percentage of the seats in an entering class. No matter how strong their qualifications, quantitative and extracurricular, including their own potential for contribution to educational diversity, they are never afforded the chance to compete with applicants from the preferred groups for the special admissions seats. At the same time the preferred applicants have the opportunity to compete for every seat in the class.

The split decision sent mixed messages. It upheld affirmative action systems as constitutional in some cases; however, it also placed limitations on the use of such policies, defining as unconstitutional the rigid application of racial quotas to the extent that said quotas went beyond ensuring diversity to infringe upon the rights of another group of students.

The validity and present-day necessity of affirmative action programs is still a topic of contention, as is the concept of reverse discrimination. Lawyers, judges, school officials, and the general public remain torn on the extent to which affirmative action helps and hinders—and this is a topic unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

To read the full text of Powell’s opinion, click here.

To listen to the oral argument and the opinion announcement, click here.

For more information, and to view photos and video footage, click here.

To learn more, check out Howard Ball’s The Bakke Case: Race, Education, and Affirmative Action (University Press of Kansas, 2000).

For more on racial diversity in California, check out Mark Brilliant’s The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941-1978 (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Numerous books discuss affirmative action, including Terry Anderson’s The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action (Oxford University Press, 2005) and George Curry’s The Affirmative Action Debate (Basic Books, 1996).

On This Day: Reynolds v. Sims

On June 15, 1964—48 years ago today—the Supreme Court in its landmark Reynolds v. Sims ruled that state legislative districts must be roughly equal in population, thereby setting the stage for political power to shift from rural areas to urban areas and for urban residents to finally be able to participate in government on equal terms.

Two years earlier, in Baker v. Carr, the Supreme Court ruled that it had the authority to review cases brought by individuals believed to have been harmed by legislative apportionment. More than 30 lawsuits were filed following this ruling; several such complaints referred to Alabama’s apportionment system.

Alabama’s districts were based on the 1900 census population estimates—drawn up more than six decades earlier. In the ensuing decades, urban districts had markedly increased in population, thus effectively diluting the urban residents’ votes. The plaintiffs argued that this system violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In an 8-to-1 decision, the Supreme Court held that Alabama’s system was unconstitutional because it gave more weight to some votes than it did to others. The ruling read, in part:

Undoubtedly, the right of suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society. Especially since the right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights, any alleged infringement of the right of citizens to vote must be carefully and meticulously scrutinized. . .

Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests. As long as ours is a representative form of government, and our legislatures are those instruments of government elected directly by and directly representative of the people, the right to elect legislators in a free and unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system.

The decision was certainly controversial. In fact, one senator went so far as to propose a constitutional amendment to permit unequal legislative districts (this effort failed). Ultimately, though, the Supreme Court’s decision prevailed, and states were required to make “honest and good faith” efforts to construct districts of roughly equal population.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

To listen to the oral argument, click here.

To learn more, click here and here.

To view newspaper articles published at the time, click here and here.

To learn more, check out Richard Cortner’s The Apportionment Cases.

To listen to the oral arguments from Baker v. Carr—the case that set the stage for Reynolds v. Simsclick here.

For a broader discussion of election law, check out Richard Hasen’s The Supreme Court and Election Law: Judging Equality from Baker v. Carr to Bush v. Gore (NYU Press, 2006).

For a discussion of apportionment in America’s early years, check out Charles Kromkowski’s Recreating the American Republic: Rules of Apportionment, Constitutional Change, and American Political Development, 1700-1870 (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

Richard and Mildred Loving and the Legalization of Interracial Marriage

On June 12, 1967—only 45 years ago today—the Supreme Court in the landmark Loving v. Virginia held that a Virginia law banning interracial marriages was unconstitutional, thereby legalizing interracial marriage in the United States.

Nine years earlier, two Virginians—an African American woman and a white man—were married in Washington, D.C. When they returned to their home state, they were found guilty of violating the anti-miscegenation statute (the “Racial Integrity Act”) and sentenced to a year in jail. A judge agreed to suspend the sentence provided the couple leave Virginia and not return for 25 years.

Richard and Mildred Loving initially chose to follow the judge’s orders; they lived in Washington, D.C., for five years.  Ultimately, though, they chose to fight the law, hiring Bernard Cohen (affiliated with the ACLU) to litigate for them. After lengthy legal wrangling, the case made its way to the Supreme Court, where Cohen made an impassioned argument about the Lovings’ right to be married:

The Lovings have the right to go to sleep at night knowing that if should they not wake in the morning, their children would have the right to inherit from them. They have the right to be secure in knowing that, if they go to sleep and do not wake in the morning, that one of them, a survivor of them, has the right to Social Security Benefits. All of these are denied to them, and they will be denied to them if the whole anti-miscegenistic scheme of Virginia. . . [is] found unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court in a unanimous decision ruled that Virginia’s statute violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The ruling read, in part:

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

The landmark decision had far-reaching effects: at that time, there were a dozen other states with anti-miscegenation laws, and this ruling invalidated all of them. Although interracial couples still faced discrimination, the Loving case made possible the legal unions of countless interracial couples. Today, the implications extend beyond interracial marriage to the possibility of using the Fourteenth Amendment to bolster the marriage equality movement for same-sex unions.

For a discussion of the present-day effects of this case, check out Cambridge University Press’s Loving v. Virginia in a Post-Racial World: Rethinking Race, Sex, and Marriage (ed. Kevin Noble Maillard and Rose Cuison Villazor, forthcoming June 30, 2012).

To read the full text of the Loving decision, click here.

To listen to the oral argument, click here.

To learn more, check out this NPR story, and this encyclopedia entry. The ACLU also offers a helpful summary.

A recent documentary, The Loving Story, pays tribute to the couple and their significant contribution to the civil rights struggle, and discusses the current state of interracial marriage and tolerance.

For an excellent study, check out Fay Botham’s Almighty God Created the Races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage, and American Law (UNC Press, 2009). (The book gets its name from a particularly shocking line from Judge Leon Bazile’s 1959 ruling: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. . . The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”)

Joshua Rothman presents an interesting study of interracial relationships in antebellum Virginia: Nortorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787-1861 (UNC Press, 2003).

Elizabeth Smith-Pryor’s Property Rites: The Rhinelander Trial, Passing, and the Protection of Whiteness (UNC Press, 2009) shows that interracial relationships were not only discussed in the South, but rather throughout the country.

Remembering McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents

On June 5, 1950—62 years ago today—the Supreme Court, in one of two education desegregation decision that day, struck another blow to segregated education when it declared an Oklahoma statute unconstitutional, arguing that the differential treatment shown to an African American student was itself a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

George W. McLaurin was denied admission to the University of Oklahoma’s Doctorate in Education program, solely because of his race. A state statute declared it a misdemeanor to operate a school in which both whites and African American students were taught. McLaurin filed suit, and a three-judge panel in federal court struck down the law, ordering the University to admit McLaurin.

This wasn’t the end of McLaurin’s struggle, though. Although the University was required to admit him, he was separated from the other students on campus, forced to sit by himself in classrooms, libraries, and the cafeteria. The federal Court, although it had required his admission, upheld the University’s discriminatory measures.

The NAACP came to McLaurin’s aid, led by attorney Thurgood Marshall, who was, at the same time, arguing another desegregation case. The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the lower court’s decision, stating that the University’s treatment of McLaurin violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The justices discussed McLaurin’s separation from other students, stating that:

The result is that the appellant is handicapped in his pursuit of effective graduate instruction. Such restrictions impair and inhibit his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession.

The ruling reached further, delineating the ways in which the University’s discrimination against McLaurin would affect others in the future:

Our society grows increasingly complex, and our need for trained leaders increases correspondingly. Appellant’s case represents, perhaps, the epitome of that need, for he is attempting to obtain an advanced degree in education, to become, by definition, a leader and trainer of others. Those who will come under his guidance and influence must be directly affected by the education he receives. Their own education and development will necessarily suffer to the extent that his training is unequal to that of his classmates. State-imposed restrictions which produce such inequalities cannot be sustained.

The decision, along with the Sweatt v. Painter ruling the same day—milestones in the fight for integration—foreshadowed continued legal action and ultimate success. Within the next few years, the Supreme Court would further dismantle segregated education through Brown v. Board of Education and Brown II.

Today, the University of Oklahoma’s Bizzell Library is a national historic landmark.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

To learn more, click here.

The National Archives hosts online access to three images which illustrate McLaurin’s separation from his classmates: click here.

Click here to learn about Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma, a precursor to McLaurin v. Oklahoma.

To learn about the three milestone cases decided on June 5, 1950, click here.

To learn more about the fight for integration, check out Mark Tushnet’s The NAACP’s Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925-1950 (UNC Press, 2005).