Interview with Constance Baker Motley
QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

STOP. IF YOU COULD GIVE US THIS LAYMAN'S EXPLANATION OF THE MEANING OF THE PLESSY STANDARD…

Judge Constance Baker Motley:

You know, right after the Civil War, the Reconstruction Congress set about enacting laws which would guarantee to the former slaves the same rights which white citizens enjoyed. However the south resisted any such laws and in the election of 1876 when there was an opportunity for the south to make a deal, they did make a deal which resulted in the federal government withdrawing its support in the rights of blacks: more specifically, withdrawing federal troops from the south. These troops were there to protect blacks from violence by whites. And to make sure that they had the right to vote and the same rights as white citizens. And of course this went on and on as southern resistance grew after the Civil War to equality for blacks. Finally by 1896, when the case reached the Supreme Court involving southern treatment of blacks, the Supreme Court adopted the southern view of what ought to be and that was that sure the Constitution now provided for equality, but we could provide equality by having blacks in separate railroad cars for example. Or separate schools or separate recreation facilities. And the Supreme Court put its stamp of approval on that southern view of how the 14th Amendment ought to operate. And that continued of course until the Supreme Court's decision in the Brown case, which said, "No, you can't have separate schools for black and white children and expect black children to get the same kind of education as whites."