The Turning Point: When Segregation Became Illegal in the U.S.

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Segregation, the enforced separation of different racial groups within a community, was a widespread practice in the United States, particularly in the Southern states. This article examines the pivotal moments in history when segregation was declared illegal, reshaping American society.

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Early History of Segregation Laws

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

The legality of segregation was cemented by the Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the “separate but equal” doctrine. This ruling permitted states to pass laws requiring the segregation of public places as long as the facilities for blacks and whites were equal.

The Civil Rights Movement

The mid-20th century saw a surge in the Civil Rights Movement, aiming to overturn discriminatory practices. Activists challenged segregation through protests, legal battles, and nonviolent resistance.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

Overturning “Separate But Equal”

The landmark Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, unanimously declared that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. This ruling was the first major step towards desegregating public institutions.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

A Comprehensive End to Segregation

The most significant blow to legal segregation came with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title II of the Act prohibited discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, or national origin in public accommodations, effectively making segregation illegal.

Title VII and Employment

Title VII of the same Act also banned employment discrimination, further dismantling the legal structures that had allowed segregation to persist.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965

Ensuring Electoral Equality

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 targeted racial discrimination in voting, which was another pillar of segregation, particularly in the South.

Fair Housing Act of 1968

Discrimination in Housing

The Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, or sex, thus extending anti-segregation laws to the housing sector.

Segregation became illegal in the United States through a series of legislative actions and court decisions, most notably with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. These laws were a direct result of the tireless efforts of Civil Rights activists and set the stage for the ongoing fight against racial discrimination.


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