Thirteenth Amendment

Episode 8: Palmer v. Thompson

In 1954, the Supreme Court struck down the Jim Crow doctrine of "separate but equal" in public education. A year later, the Court ruled that all public facilities operated by state and local municipalities must be desegregated as well.

In a subsequent lower court case called Clark v. Thompson, the city of Jackson, Mississippi was ordered to desegregate its parks, its zoo, its golf courses, and its five swimming pools. The city complied with one exception; instead of opening its pools to people of all races, it closed them all down entirely.

A group of local African Americans sued, arguing that the decision to close all the pools - which city leaders admitted was done in response to the integration order - was based on racial animus and in violation the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Supreme Court, in a very close 5-4 vote, disagreed. The social ramifications, if not the legal ones, would be dire.

Questions:  Did the closing of public pools to all persons constitute a denial of equal protection of the laws to Negroes under the Fourteenth Amendment? Did the city council's action in closing the pools, instead of keeping them open on an integrated basis, create a "badge or incident" of slavery in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment?

Answers: No and no.


  • Hugo Black (majority opinion)
  • Warren Burger (w/ concurrence)
  • John Marshall Harlan
  • Potter Stewart
  • Harry Blackmun (w/ concurrence)


  • William Douglas (w/ opinion)
  • Byron White (w/ opinion)
  • William Brennan
  • Thurgood Marshall (w/ opinion)