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Albert Parker

The Negro Struggle

“Separate but Equal” Facilities

(19 January 1948)

From The Militant, Vol. XII No. 3, 19 January 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Members of the U.S. Supreme Court come and go, but the Court itself never changes in its undying opposition to equality for the Negro people. This came out once again on Jan. 12 when the Court said segregation is OK.

Two years ago Miss Ada Lois Sipuel applied for admission to the University of Oklahoma Law School, the only school of its kind in that state. She was turned down solely because she is a Negro and Oklahoma segregates Negroes in education as well as other fields. The state courts ruled against her, and so she went to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking two things – that she be admitted to the school, and that the Court outlaw segregation of students as unconstitutional.

By unanimous vote, the Court did neither. It ordered Oklahoma to provide a legal education for Miss Sipuel – either at the existing school, from which Negroes have been banned, or by setting up a new school for Negroes only. And it refused to take any action at all on the constitutionality of segregation.

Of the two questions, the second is, of course, far more important because it affects all aspects of Negro life in the 20 states and the District of Columbia where local laws specifically require segregation.

By upholding these laws in the Sipuel case, the Court is acting consistently with its own long anti-Negro history and traditions. In fact, this body bears greater responsibility for the pattern of the present Jim Crow system than any other single institution in the country.

After the Civil War Congress passed several laws to protect the civil rights of the newly freed Negroes. But the Supreme Court threw most of them out, ruling that authority over the protection of civil rights belongs to the states, and not to the federal government. This was just what the Southern states wanted, and they quickly passed Jim Crow laws to deprive Negroes of their rights. The Supreme Court said discrimination was illegal, but it nullified the effect of that decision by declaring segregation is not discrimination if “separate but equal” facilities are provided for those segregated.

“Examples of how the rule works are readily at hand,” says William R. Ming, Jr., in the chapter he wrote for the NAACP’c recent appeal to the United Nations. “Contrast the crowded, dirty, freezing in winter, and sweltering in summer, ‘Jim Crow’ cars of the southern railroads with the accommodations afforded white persons paying no more than equal fares. Or, consider the one-room schools, often unheated, poorly furnished and frequently equally poorly taught, to which most rural Negroes go for their education as another illustration ... Or, wait with a Negro soldier on a three day pass while successive busses admit only a few Negroes at a time as his leave runs out. The fact is that the law permits facilities to be separate but it does not succeed in making them equal.”

You can say that again. And while you’re saying it, remember what it means: To win equality for the Negro people it is necessary to change not only the laws, but the whole system which makes such laws possible and inevitable.

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