Plessy v. Ferguson

Yesterday, I posted about the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. That decision overruled one of the Court's worst decisions, the 1896 decision of Plessy v. Ferguson in which the Court first ruled that Separate, but Equal did not run afoul of the Constitution.


Alone in the minority was Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slaveholder from Kentucky. Harlan had opposed emancipation and civil rights for freed slaves during the Reconstruction era – but changed his position due to his outrage over the actions of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.


Harlan argued in his dissent that segregation ran counter to the constitutional principle of equality under the law: “The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race while they are on a public highway is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution,” he wrote. “It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds.”



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