5.5.3. The Midwest, 1925-1965: Jim Crow in the Midwest


Key civil rights cases, 1925-1965: 

Parmalee v. Morris – Michigan, 1925 (188 N.W. 330); State ex rel. Weaver v Bd of Trustees of Ohio State University – Ohio, 1933 (185 N.E. 196); Fletcher v Coney Island, Inc. – Ohio, 1956 (134 N.E.2d 371); McKibbin v. Corporation & Securities Commission – Michigan, 1963 (119 N.W.2d 557)

  • Few racial discrimination cases surfaced in Midwestern supreme courts between 1925 and 1965.  Those that did made clear that the fight for full equality was not over in the Midwest.
  • In a series of cases beginning with Parmalee and ending with McKibbin, the Michigan supreme court departed from its tradition of racial progressiveness and held that “racial covenants” (deed provisions forbidding homeowners to re-sell to blacks) and other practices hampering housing integration were not illegal under Michigan or federal civil rights laws.  The court continued to protect Michigan blacks who were denied access to theaters and other public accommodations, but it made clear that it would not give civil rights precedence over private property rights. 
  • In Weaver, the Ohio supreme court had little trouble upholding Ohio State’s refusal to allow a black student to live in an integrated dormitory.  The court relied on Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the U.S. Supreme Court had held that “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional:  the Ohio court saw no need to implement a broader concept of equal rights in Ohio.  (Ironically, Florence Allen, the first American woman to serve on a supreme court, wrote the court’s opinion.)  Twenty years later, in  Fletcher, the court held that Ohio’s accommodations law allowed a black Ohioan to sue an amusement park for damages after it refused to admit her, but the court (unlike courts in some other states) interpreted the law narrowly, concluding that it did not allow the court to order the park to admit black customers.  The legislature changed the law to allow for such orders, but only many years later.


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Segregated movie audience at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Illinois, 1944 (courtesy Department of Defense and Wikimedia Commons)

“Whatever the immediate or distant future may bring in this virulent conflict over the rights of free men, unfortunately we have not yet reached the time in our legal history when reality and constitutional equality are one.” - Justice ___, in McKibbin

““It is not within the power of [the court] to compel the people of one nationality or race to room with or live in such intimate relation … with people of other races or nationalities, against their desires. … The purely social relations of our citizens cannot be enforced by law; nor were they intended to be regulated by our own laws or by the state and Federal Constitutions.” -Justice Florence Allen, in Weaver