An image of the first page of the United States Constitution.

Source: US Constitution, Jonathan Thorne, Flikr

The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments are known as the Reconstruction Amendments.  They were added to the Constitution as a result of the Civil War, and their purpose was to extend rights and citizenship to former slaves.  In doing so, these amendments also guaranteed equality under the law for all citizens.

Some states, especially in the South, passed a series of state laws, known as Jim Crow laws, that limited the rights of certain groups of people, especially African Americans.  Jim Crow laws were intended to separate the races and to suggest that any race other than white was inferior.

Click on the pictures below to see more information about relevant Supreme Court cases.

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A photograph of a sign that reads

The U. S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of these Jim Crow laws with its finding in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 that upheld state laws requiring racial segregation in public places based on the rule of “separate but equal.”  As long as African Americans (and other nonwhites) were given an equal place, racial segregation was legal.  However, most places for nonwhites, like schools, waiting rooms, restaurants, etc., were below the standard of their white counterparts, further implying the inferiority of the nonwhite races. Close Pop Up
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A photograph of elementary aged school children in a newly integrated classroom.

In 1954, the Supreme Court reversed the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.  The case revolved around the question of schools – were black schools providing educational opportunities equal to those provided by white schools?  The Court ruled that separate schools were not equal, and black children should have the opportunity to go to white schools in order to receive the same quality of education.  This action called for the integration of all public schools. Close Pop Up

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