November 7th, 1955

U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Ruling Outlawing Racial Segregation in Public Recreational Facilities

In Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. Dawson, African Americans living in Baltimore, Maryland, sued the city’s mayor and city council for maintaining racially segregated, publicly-funded beaches and parks. A federal district court initially dismissed the complaint, holding that the “separate but equal” doctrine established in 1896 by the United States Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson permitted racial segregation as long as the facilities or services involved were substantially equal between races.

On March 14, 1955, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned that ruling, rejecting the city’s argument that racial segregation was justified as a means of ensuring order and avoiding racial conflict. In its decision, the Fourth Circuit held that “segregation cannot be justified as a means to preserve the public peace merely because the tangible facilities furnished to one race are equal to those furnished by the other.” In the view of the court, legal support for the doctrine of “separate but equal” had been swept away by recent landmark Supreme Court rulings like Brown v. Board of Education, decided the previous year.

The City of Baltimore appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. On November 7, 1955, the Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit’s decision in a per curiam order endorsing the lower court’s rejection of segregation in public recreational facilities and adopting its decision as national, binding precedent.


November 7th, 1931

Fisk University Dean and Student Die In Car Wreck After Denied Hospital Care Due to Race

On November 7, 1931, Dean Juliette Derricotte of Fisk University in Nashville was driving three students to her parents’ home in Atlanta when a Model T driven by an older white man suddenly swerved and struck Ms. Derricotte’s car, overturning it into a ditch. The white driver stopped to yell at the black occupants of Ms. Derricotte’s car for damaging his own vehicle, then left the scene. Nearby Hamilton Memorial Hospital in Dalton, Georgia, did not admit African American patients, so Ms. Derricotte and the three students were treated by a white doctor at his office in Dalton and then taken to the home of an African American woman to recuperate – though Ms. Derricotte and one of the students, Nina Johnson, were critically injured.

Six hours after the accident, one of the less seriously injured students was able to reach a Chattanooga hospital by phone, and arrangements were made to transport Ms. Derricotte and Ms. Johnson the 35 miles to that facility. However, it was too late: Ms. Derricotte died on her way to the hospital, at age 34, and Ms. Johnson died the next day.

The Committee on Interracial Cooperation opened an investigation into the incident, and Walter White, secretary of the New York-based NAACP, traveled south in December 1931 to learn more. He later concluded, “The barbarity of race segregation in the South is shown in all its brutal ugliness by the willingness to let cultured, respected, and leading colored women die for lack of hospital facilities which are available to any white person no matter how low in social scale.”