Evans v. Newton
382 U.S. 296 (1966)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Evans v. Newton, 382 U.S. 296 (1966)

Evans v. Newton

No. 61

Argued November 9-10, 1965

Decided January 17, 1966

382 U.S. 296

Syllabus

A tract of land was willed in trust to the Mayor and City Council of Macon, Georgia, as a park for white people, to be controlled by a white Board of Managers. When the city ultimately desegregated the park, the individual Managers brought this suit in a state court against the city and the trustees of residuary beneficiaries and asked for the city's removal as trustee and the appointment of private trustees to enforce the racial limitations of the will. The city, which had alleged that it could not legally enforce segregation, asked to resign as trustee after intervention of Negro citizens who claimed that the racial limitations violated federal law. Other heirs of the testator who had also intervened asked, along with the individual defendants, for reversion of the property if the prayer of the petition was denied. The Georgia court, without passing on the heirs' other claims, accepted the city's resignation as trustee and appointed three new trustees. The Negro intervenors appealed. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the testator had a right to leave his property to a limited class and that charitable trusts are subject to the supervision of an equity court, which could appoint new trustees to avoid failure of the trust. Held:

1. Where private individuals or groups exercise powers or carry on functions governmental in nature, they become agencies or instrumentalities of the State. and subject to the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 382 U. S. 299.

2. Where the tradition of municipal control and maintenance had been perpetuated for many years, proof of the substitution of trustees is insufficient per se to divest the park of its public character. P. 382 U. S. 301.

3. The services rendered by a park are municipal in nature, and, under the circumstances of this case, the park is subject to the equal protection requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 382 U. S. 301-302.

220 Ga. 280, 138 S.E. 2d 573, reversed.

Page 382 U. S. 297

Primary Holding
A private park operator is subject to the Fourteenth Amendment if the park is municipal in character.
Facts
In his will, U.S. Senator Augustus Bacon left a piece of real estate to the city of Macon in Georgia. He intended the land to be used as a park that only whites could access. The city, as the named trustee, created a board of managers to operate the park, and it eventually allowed African-Americans to use it. Trying to effectuate the Senator's will, individual managers of the park sued to remove the city as trustee because it was constitutionally unable to enforce the racially restrictive component of the will. After the city complied and resigned as trustee, private trustees appointed by a state court resumed excluding African-Americans. A group of African-Americans then brought an action on the grounds that the racial exclusion still violated equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. The state courts upheld the appointment of the private trustees.

Opinions

Majority

  • William Orville Douglas (Author)
  • Earl Warren
  • Tom C. Clark
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Abe Fortas

Racial discrimination is prohibited under the Fourteenth Amendment in any situation when it is sponsored by the state. The application of the state action doctrine is best determined according to the individual facts of a certain case. In this situation, the city maintained and managed the park, which had become an integral part of the city. This makes the operation of the park a public function, despite the fact that the private trustees managed it. A park provides municipal services, such as mass recreation, so equal protection should apply.

Dissent

  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)

Dissent

  • John Marshall Harlan II (Author)
  • Potter Stewart

Case Commentary

This park could be considered public property because the city used it as a tax exemption, even though the senator paid private parties to limit access to white people. Private trustees do not make an area private if the city has a pattern of controlling it. Parks are likely to be considered public because they fulfill the public function of mass recreation.

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