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The Psychological and Sociological Impact of Segregation

All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Letter from Birmingham Jail

In 1896, a Supreme Court decision in Plessy v Ferguson legalized separate but equal accommodations in public facilities. This action ushered in an era of separation/segregation in our country from which we have never fully recovered. At the time our federal government actually believed that segregation was okay as long as both parties had equal quality and access to accommodations. Needless to say, our judicial discourse corrected this mistaken notion and the Supreme Court overturned their decision in 1954 with Brown v the Board of Education and still in 2019, we have never fully recovered. Even after the reversal, the civil rights movements of the 50’s and 60’s were much about opposing Jim Crow laws which were laws created by southern states to enforce segregation that had been outlaweed. To this, Dr. King and other civil rights leaders of the day spoke out and still today, we have not fully recovered.

In 1968, The Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) gave the federal government enforcement mechanisms to ensure that housing was available to all without regard to “race.” While this had some small effect on segregation in housing in our country, we still suffer to a relatively large degree with very segregated housing. While moves by the legislature at the state and federal levels continue and indeed should, to ensure that everyone has access and the ability to freely move about and live where he or she wants to live and dine where he or she wants to dine and go to school where he or she wants to go to school, when it comes to segregation, we have still never fully recovered.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote to fellow clergymen who he felt were not only sitting idly by while these injustices took place, but they were at the same time condemning him for confronting the injustices. The segregation statutes he was referring to were acts of the government that were not being challenged by those of moral bearing and position. This is not a phenomenon of only 50 years ago. It continues today. However, oddly enough, the segregation comes from those previously kept out who now fight to keep others out.

The early twentieth century and Jim Crow era produced the “black” institutions that became so common across our national landscape. “Black” churches, “black” businesses, “black” social organizations and “black” communities were not only the norm but seen as a tool for progress as newly freed “black” men bonded together to further their economic and social plight. This was constructive in the early 20th century, but early in the 21st century, we must think differently.

While there is no legalized segregation today, there is still socialized and mental segregation. From the “black” fraternity I joined to the “black” alumni association that I unwillingly became a part of, from the “black”

church that I attended last week, to the black awards banquet held in some major city, it is all the same; segregation by skin tone and we must ask ourselves, do we want to maintain this separation? If so, we are having a serious clash with the vision that Dr. King had. He believed as quoted above that “segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.” Segregation creates an “us v them” mentality, pitting one group against another and forcing all to choose a side.

Segregation carries a tremendous social impact from which a society has a difficult time recovering. Signs of the end of physical segregation may be easily removed, but the ideology that drove the creation of such separation may take decades and perhaps even centuries to do away with completely.

Today in view of yesterday’s segregation, we must begin to do that which leads to an integrated tomorrow. We must pledge to live each day to become, not only more at peace with our fellow brothers and sisters, but inevitably to become one with them – united! This is true integration.

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