Separate but Equal Doctrine Law and Legal Definition

Separate but equal doctrine refers to a now-defunct principle that allowed African-Americans to be segregated if they were provided with equal opportunities and facilities in education, public transportation, and jobs. The rule was expounded in the case Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (U.S. 1896) where the court held that if one race is inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane. The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.

This rule was overruled by the court in Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 347 U.S. 483 (U.S. 1954) where the court held that “Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to retard the educational and mental development of African-American children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system. In the field of public education the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, segregation is a deprivation of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”