Segregation refers to the enforced separation of racially designated groups in public places—railroads, buses, schools, parks, cemeteries, etc.—by law and custom, particularly during the Jim Crow Era (1870s-1950s) of Southern history. Segregation first emerged as a system of racial control in antebellum cities with large free black populations and, later, in “Black Codes” adopted by Southern states and municipalities after the Civil War. In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which sanctioned the segregation of blacks and whites in public places under the doctrine of “separate but equal.” Signs for “Colored” and “White” became commonplace throughout the American South. In May 1954, after decades of civil rights litigation, the constitutional framework for segregation began to collapse. The U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, overturning the Plessy decision. “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The modern Civil Rights movement began a year later when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. What started as a legal campaign for school desegregation soon became a nationwide movement, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others, to dismantle all vestiges of Jim Crow segregation in public life.

For More Information:

“Separate is Not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education.” Smithsonian Institution. Accessed October 18, 2018,

“Brown v. Board at Fifty: ‘With an Even Hand.’” Library of Congress. Accessed October 18, 2018,