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Plessy v. Ferguson

Plessy V. Ferguson

At issue in Plessy v. Ferguson was an 1890 Louisiana law that required passenger trains operating within the state to provide "equal but separate" accommodations for "white and colored races." The Supreme Court upheld the law by a 7–1 vote, in the process putting a stamp of approval on all laws that mandated racial segregation. In his majority opinion, Justice Henry Billings Brown concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment "could not have intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either."

Justice John M. Harlan, the lone dissenter, responded that the "arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race" was equivalent to imposing a "badge of servitude" on African Americans. He contended that the real intent of the law was not to provide equal accommodations but to compel African Americans "to keep to themselves." This was intolerable because "our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens." Nevertheless, Plessy was the law of the land until 1954.

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