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Amdt14.S1.8.3.5 Private Businesses and Segregation

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

While the Constitution does not reach private discrimination, the Court will act if “to some significant extent the State in any of its manifestations has been found to have become involved in it.” 1 After Brown, the Court decided several cases finding state participation in segregating private businesses. Thus, the Court reversed trespass convictions for Black boys and girls who sat at a “Whites only” lunch counter, given that a city ordinance required separate dining facilities.2 Extending this holding, the Court reversed convictions of patrons who refused a manager’s instructions to leave a “Whites only” restaurant, noting that the Florida state board of health required racially separate toilet facilities in restaurants.3 Even though Florida did not explicitly bar integrated dining spaces, the Court held that the segregation regulations “embody a state policy putting burdens upon any restaurant which serves both races, burdens bound to discourage the serving of the two races together.” 4 This degree of state involvement violated equal protection. So did New Orleans city officials’ statements, even with no ordinance or regulation, that they would not tolerate “sit-in demonstrations.” 5 Based on this official endorsement of local segregation customs, the Court overturned convictions for Black patrons who refused a manager’s order to leave a segregated lunch counter.6 The Court also found state action, and a constitutional violation, when a Delaware restaurant leasing city property refused to serve a Black patron.7 The Court held that the state, “[b]y its inaction” in permitting discriminatory uses of its property, “has not only made itself a party to the refusal of service, but has elected to place its power, property and prestige behind the admitted discrimination.” 8

Burton v. Wilmington Parking Auth., 365 U.S. 715, 722 (1961). back
Peterson v. City of Greenville, 373 U.S. 244, 247 (1963). back
Robinson v. Florida, 378 U.S. 153, 156 (1964). back
Id. at 156. back
Lombard v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 267, 270 (1963). back
Id. at 273–74. back
Burton v. Wilmington Parking Auth., 365 U.S. 715, 717 (1961). back
Id. at 725. back