Supreme Court opens judicial history exhibit celebrating Black History Month

3 February 2004

Supreme Court opens judicial history exhibit celebrating Black History Month

Contact: Beth Riggert, Communications Counsel
Supreme Court of Missouri
Desk: 573-751-3676
Cell: 573-619-2849

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Visitors to the Supreme Court of Missouri now can experience an exhibit illustrating cases that show the pivotal role Missouri played in the development of American constitutional law and history. The six-panel exhibit, devoted to understanding the "Quest for Equality," is part of "The Verdict of History" exhibit and is on loan for a limited time from the Missouri State Archives.

"This exhibit helps illustrate the fact that, throughout our past, discrimination has had many faces," Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronnie White said. "But in each situation, the result has been the same: the denial of equal protection of the laws and the courts' intervention to address this discrimination."

One such case is State ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, involving an African-American graduate of Lincoln University who was denied admission to the only state university law school because of his race. At the time, the state constitution mandated separate schools for African-Americans, and the prevailing law in the land was the "separate but equal" doctrine upheld in the 1896 United States Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson. The state Supreme Court in 1937 held that it was constitutional for the state to provide separate schools for African-Americans. The United States Supreme Court reversed that decision in 1938, putting the first crack in the Plessy doctrine of "separate but equal."

In 1947, the state Supreme Court considered the use of restrictive covenants forbidding the sale of a home to an African-American buyer in Kraemer et ux v. Shelley et ux. The Court held that such restrictive covenants were common and that the particular covenant in issue did not violate the proposed buyer's rights. The next year, the United States Supreme Court reversed that decision, holding that enforcement of such covenants by a state court constituted state action in violation of the federal equal protection clause.

The exhibit, which also features cases examining gender discrimination issues, along with a display profiling African-American judges in Missouri, will be on display through May. To schedule a guided tour of the exhibits and the 97-year-old Supreme Court Building, visitors should call 573-751-4144.