Really long question about the Plessy v. Ferguson case?
The Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case legalized Jim Crow practices throughout the South. The court ruled that segregation based on race was acceptable as long as facilities were of equal quality. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote the dissent in the case.
The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficient purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the constitution, by one of which the blacks of this country were made citizens of the United States and of the states in which they respectively reside, and whose privileges and immunities, as citizens, the states are forbidden to abridge. Sixty millions of whites are in no danger from the presence here of eight millions of blacks. The destinies of the two races, in this country, are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana.
Plessy v. Ferguson, Judgment, Decided May 18, 1886; Records of the Supreme Court of the United States; Record Group 267; Plessy v. Ferguson, 163, #15248, National Archives.
What do you think of Justice Harlan’s predictions? Did the ruling in this case impact the country in the way that he described? Why do you think the rest of the court ignored his warning?
- DonaldLv 76 years agoFavorite Answer
Harlan was correct. However (and this would be very controversial) I'd argue that the Civil Rights Act caused similar problems. As citizens, Harlan was saying, blacks should have the same rights as whites--not "equal" or "comparable." One problem, of course, is that by treating blacks separately, they never even received the "equal" rights that Plessy v Ferguson was supposed to convey. Their rights remained inferior.
However, I'd argue that the Civil Rights Act resulted in what Harlan then warned about: "What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens?" It could be argued that affirmative action sends the message that certain minorities are "inferior" and that state enactments were necessary to "level the playing field."
I'm not arguing against equal treatment or equal opportunity. But what I'm saying is that Harlan's concern about the state taking action to assist a group of people who are deemed in need of help has resulted in the "feeling of distrust" that Harlan warned about.
Why did the rest of the court ignore his warning? Because the constitutionality of a law isn't determined by concerns and predictions. It's based on the interpretation of the Constitution. You can argue that the majority did not interpret the Constitution correctly. But it wasn't up to them to speculate on the ramifications of their decision.
Hope that helps.