Top 10 court cases | Black History Month

February is Black History Month

Black History Month

Mildred Loving was involved in the case that established banning interracial marriage as unconstitutional. Image from Flickr.

Black History Month is here, and it’s time to study up. A good way to trace some of the important events in black history is to look at Supreme Court decisions that directly affected African-Americans. Not all of these decisions were victories, but they all were important in black history.

In an age when African-Americans can get payday loans with a simple credit check, it’s pretty interesting to read about what the laws were 150 years ago. Here are the top 10 most influential Supreme Court decisions related to black history, according to

1. Dred Scott vs. Sandford, 1857

As you can probably guess from the date of this decision, it was not a good one for slaves. This case established that slaves were the property of their masters, even if the slave and master lived in a free state. It also struck down the Missouri Compromise, which banned importing slaves. This case established that slave owners could take their slaves anywhere they wanted.

2. Civil Rights Cases, 1883

This decision was also a bad one in black history. After several civil rights acts and the 13th and 14th amendments were passed, businesses sued saying they were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to govern private businesses, so the acts that forbid businesses from discrimination were repealed.

3. Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896

This is the case that established “separate but equal” segregation laws. Plessy took his case to the Supreme Court after he was fined for refusing to sit in the segregated section of a train. This case upheld segregation as legal, but established that facilities must be equal.

4. Powell v. Alabama, 1932

This case overturned the convictions of nine African-American men who got into a fight with a group of white men on a freight train. The men were convicted of sexual assault after two women accused them in retaliation. A doctor said there was no evidence of sexual assault. All nine men were convicted, though they had no lawyers to represent them and were not allowed to contact family. This case counsel in state and federal courts.

5. Shelley v. Kraemer, 1948

This is where we start to see good news. This case forbid courts from making or enforcing laws designed to keep people of certain races from owning or inhabiting property.

6. Brown v. Board of Education, 1954

Most people have heard of this landmark case, which ended segregation in public schools. It reversed Plessy v. Ferguson and established segregation in the education system as unlawful.

7. Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, 1964

In the same year the Civil Rights Act passed, this motel sued for its right to choose who was allowed to stay there. Of course, the motel lost.

8. Loving v. Virginia, 1967

Three years after the Civil Rights Act was added to the constitution, the Supreme Court ruled that the 16 states in the U.S. that still banned interracial marriage had to revise their laws.

9. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 1978

Affirmative action policies were established in the 1960s, and they were meant to be temporary. President Kennedy set out to “level the playing field” for all Americans. However, this 1978 case established that affirmative action policies that amounted to reverse discrimination were unconstitutional.

10. Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003

Affirmative action has been the center of many court cases. The Supreme Court decided in 2003 that considering race for college enrollment is still allowed as long as individualized review of the consumer is part of the process as well.

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