“Our Constitution is color-blind”

Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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May 18th
“Our Constitution is color-blind”
On May 18, 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, a case that challenged a Louisiana law segregating railroad-car passengers by race. The Court upheld the statute, establishing the policy of “separate but equal” public facilities for blacks and whites. John Marshall Harlan, a former slave owner, was the only justice to dissent from the Plessy decision. In the following decades, civil rights advocates often quoted his forceful argument in their quest to end segregation:

In view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. . . .

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. It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds. . . .

We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow citizens, our equals before the law. The thin disguise of “equal” accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead anyone, nor atone for the wrong this day done.
American History Parade
1860
Republicans nominate Abraham Lincoln for president.

1863
Ulysses S. Grant begins the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

1896
The Supreme Court upholds “separate but equal” racial segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson.

1908
Congress requires the motto In God We Trust to appear on certain coins.

1980
Mount St. Helens in Washington erupts, leaving 57 people dead or missing.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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