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U.S. Supreme Court

The perniciousness of Plessy v. Ferguson

The perniciousness of Plessy v. Ferguson

“Separate but equal.” These three words carry the burden of an oppressive period in American history, and we have long known their lie: Separate can never be equal; separate is inherently unequal.

Yet Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous Supreme Court case synonymous with “separate but equal,” drew remarkably little attention when the justices announced their near-unanimous decision on May 18, 1896. It was the latest in a string of legal defeats for men and women of color who had been resisting separation in public accommodations since before the Civil War. And though today legal scholars treat the Plessy ruling as a turning point in the American narrative of race, few among us know...