To what extent was the separate but equal decision of the Supreme Court the main obstacle facing black Americans in achieving civil rights before 1941?

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To what extent was the ‘separate but equal’ decision of the Supreme Court the main obstacle facing black Americans in achieving civil rights before 1941?

  The ‘separate but equal’ decision of the Supreme Court was a significant obstacle facing black Americans in achieving civil rights before 1941, however other obstacles were significant. After the introduction of the ‘separate but equal’ law, Southern states began implementing a number of laws of segregation knows as Jim Crow laws which limited the civil rights a black American had, however in some cases, segregation has been known to have been beneficial suggesting it was not an obstacle for all Blacks. The influence of the Ku Klux Klan was also a major obstacle facing these black Americans as they put fear into the lives of thousands of Blacks, however the Klan began to decline in membership before 1941 showing the limiting support for the Klan. Another obstacle in the way of Blacks achieving civil rights was their lack of political influence at the time. Due to the Jim Crow laws the number of Blacks able to vote in the Southern states dropped dramatically suggesting the barriers faced by the black people when trying to voice their political views, however with the great migration came increased political influence, lowering this obstacle. Also, it can be argued that the lack of unity between the black Americans meant a further obstacle as their opposite views created a number of different ideas for the community, however there is also evidence of the strong bond between Blacks in America through the use of newspapers and civil rights groups, suggesting this obstacle is decreased in importance. These obstacles are incredibly important when understanding the problems Blacks faced when achieving civil rights before 1941 and suggest that the ‘separate but equal’ decision may not have been the main barrier.

  In 1892, a black man called Homer Plessey was arrested for refusing to move from a railway seat reserved for white people. Plessey argued that the State had broken the 14th Amendment which states that black people should be treated the same as white people. After his case was eventually taken to the Supreme Court, the Court ruled that it was perfectly acceptable for black and white people to be separated as long as equal facilities were available, thus the ‘separate but equal’ decision was made. This decision meant that the Southern States were now able to pass a number of laws which meant that Blacks were further segregated from Whites known as the ‘Jim Crow’ Laws. Many laws were passed ordering that there should be separate seating on railway trains, waiting rooms at stations, buses, schools, churches, wards in hospitals, public fountains and even separate cemeteries. These laws are examples of the increase in racial tension within America and in the 1920s this tension continued to grow, resulting in the Southern states further extending Jim Crow laws. These laws affected the achievement of civil rights as laws were placed on voting. A number of barriers were in the way of allowing a black person to vote in Southern states for example, it was necessary that you had to register to vote and poll tax meant that many Blacks could not register due to poverty. Another barrier was the use of literacy tests as a means of discrimination, further reducing the number of black people who could vote. Many people argued that the laws meant that Blacks had facilities of a lesser quality than that of Whites and that they ensured that Black men only received the lowest paid jobs. It has however been argued that some Black businessmen in Northern cities did well out of segregation and it gave them a captive market, suggesting that these laws were not an obstacle facing all black Americans. Therefore it is evident that the Jim Crow laws showed that segregation was entering all parts of life, thus the ‘separate but equal’ decision made by the Supreme Court which triggered these laws was a significant barrier in preventing Blacks from achieving civil rights.

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  The Ku Klux Klan were another significant obstacle facing black Americans in achieving civil rights. The Klan were formed to terrorise any person who advocated a policy of equal rights however they were particularly hostile to Blacks, Catholics, Jews and new immigrants. They put fear into the Black community through threats, blackmail and bribery and performed acts such as beatings, tortures and lynchings on many black people. The support this group received shows the extent of the Klan as an obstacle facing black Americans. By the mid-1920s, they claimed a membership of 2-5 million and with their influential ...

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