September 24, 2012 Articles

Book Review: Plessy v. Ferguson: Race and Inequality in Jim Crow America

The background of the landmark case takes center stage here.

By Dennis Owens

Williamjames Hull Hoffer
Plessy v. Ferguson: Race and Inequality in Jim Crow America
University Press of Kansas (2012)

Such a cruel and telling blow: Plessy, the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court failed to strike down a state law requiring the segregation of railroad passenger cars. Jim Crow laws had been in place before Plessy was decided in 1896. Louisiana’s Separate Car Act had used the fiction of “separate but equal.”

The chief justice at the time was Edward D. White, who had dropped out of Georgetown University to join the Confederate Army. Three of the justices were Grover Cleveland Democrats. Justice John Marshall Harlan the Elder had led a Union regiment, but he held racist views about emancipation and suffrage. His views changed, and he became a Republican.

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