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Charlotte Brown’s plea to the court against Omnibus Railway Company

One page of a handwritten plea document in Charlotte L. Brown vs. Omnibus Railroad Co.
Brown, Charlotte
between 1863 and 1866
Manuscript

Excerpt of 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. The Fourteenth Amendment expands the concept and rights of citizenship and provides equal protection under the law to all. In the second sentence — especially the clause, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens” — Congress amended the Constitution to provide equal protection for all citizens. The Fourteenth Amendment was passed just after the Civil War, when for the first time formerly enslaved people were assured of the right to citizenship. But the amendment’s impact extended even further. It became an important turning point in how the Supreme Court was called upon to determine whether certain laws violate the rights of certain citizens and not others. Many future complaints filed with the courts rest on the conviction that certain laws that apply to some citizens and not others are in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The phrase “nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” is also crucial, because it means that equal protection of the laws applies to all persons, not just citizens. This is especially important as many immigrants — especially those from Asia and other majority nonwhite countries — were denied the right to become US citizens. Even before the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, black Americans fought in the courts for equal treatment. In San Francisco, Charlotte Brown, the daughter of a former slave, sued the Omnibus Railroad Company in 1863 — at the height of the Civil War — after being ejected from a streetcar because “colored persons were not allowed to ride.” A California judge ruled in her favor, without relying on federal law. Questions of inquiry: 1. Why do you think Congress determined it was necessary to pass the Fourteenth Amendment even though the Bill of Rights protected the fundamental rights of individuals? 2. How did the Civil War and Reconstruction change the concept of who was a citizen of the United States? Referring to Justice O’Connor’s statement, do you think public opinion in 1868 opposed or supported the Fourteenth Amendment? 3. With the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, did formerly enslaved people have the same rights as other people? If not, why not?

This is the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment, which defines the concept and rights of citizenship. In the second sentence — especially the clause, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens” — Congress amended the Constitution to provide for equal protection for all citizens. The Fourteenth Amendment was an important turning point in how the Supreme Court was called upon to determine whether a law violated the rights of certain citizens and not others. Many future complaints filed with the courts rest on the conviction that laws that apply to some citizens and not others are in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. This was especially true for those who were originally left out of the US Constitution, including formerly enslaved people, immigrants from specific countries (especially Asian countries), and others. This amendment was passed just after the Civil War, during Reconstruction, when the federal government wanted to ensure that formerly enslaved people were guaranteed the right to full citizenship. The passage of this amendment reversed the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857 in which the US Supreme Court ruled that African Americans were not and never could be citizens. Since that time, the Fourteenth Amendment has been the basis for challenges to laws that deprived people of their rights on the basis of race, skin color, ethnicity, and national origin.

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Resided on Scotland Street [illegible] Filbert a Greenwich on 17 April 1863 -

On 17th 1863 - I started from home for the purpose of visiting my physician on Howard St. On going down Filbert, when one of the cars came along and the driver hailed me by giving me a signal of raising his hand. I returned the signal, the car stopped and I got in. It was 7 or 8 o’clock p.m. I entered from the rear platform. The car then started immediately. There were 3 passengers in the car at the time I entered, two gentlemen and one lady. I took my seat about midway and on the left hand side. I rode to the corner of Jackson and Stockton, Betw Union & Greene, the conductor went around to collect tickets and when he came to me I handed him my ticket and he refused to take it. It was one of the Omnibus RailRoad tickets, one that I had purchased of them previous to that time. He replied that colored persons were not allowed to ride. I told him I had been in the habit of riding ever since the cars had been running.