National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1886-1906: We encounter prosperity and its perils in an industrial age

May 18, 1896
One Justice warns that “separate” is not “equal”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John M. Harlan

“Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”
—Justice John Marshall Harlan,
Dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson

Louisiana shoemaker, Homer Plessy, arrested in ’92 for entering a “whites only” train car, took his case to the Supreme Court.

Today, he lost. The Court ruled that a state law requiring segregated train cars is constitutional if they are “equal.”

Justice Harlan, a former slave owner, wrote a stirring dissent. He insisted that such laws violate the 13th and 14th Amendments.

But Harlan, so often out of step with his colleagues, was the lone dissenter. Now segregation is legal.

Read about it in the New York times

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