The Era Of Segregation: Historical Photos Of Inequality

By Penny Chavers
The First Day of Desegregation. A black child and a white child face each other on the first classroom day in history that saw racial integration in some public schools in the southern states of the U.S. Source: (gettyimages.com)

The United States has come a long way since institutionalized segregation. Historical photos, though, are a powerful reminder of the injustice of the "separate but equal" era. And it wasn't that long ago: Many people reading this post might have been born when segregation was still in effect -- before the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 that struck down Jim Crow laws, Rosa Parks' civil disobedience in 1955, the lunch counter sit-ins of 1960, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As much as we would like to think of segregation as ancient history, it's not, and we are still feeling its after-effects.

From the beginning, race relations in the United States were at odds with the ideals upon which the country was founded. The Declaration of Independence talked a good game in its most famous passage:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

But the existence of slavery based on white superiority disproved the "created equal" claim, and legal bondage of fellow human beings was a clear deprivation of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Looking back at the pictures in history of how this country was ripped apart by the issue of segregation, have we, as a country, learned anything? Could things have been done differently? The country that people from all walks of life loved was marred by racial injustice and slavery. People from all over the world have sought freedom in this country and that freedom was shaken with the words of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" being tested. That freedom and happiness are still being tested even today. Have we learned anything from our history?

Slaves -- eventually -- were freed. Intolerance lingered after the Civil War due to the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of 1896, that set the precedent for separate but equal policies. Progress toward equality was made -- slowly. Racial injustice lived on in the form of segregation, as historical photos remind us all too clearly