MAY 18, 1896
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-1 in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation on railroads or similar public places was constitutional, forging the “separate but equal” doctrine that remained in place until 1954.
In his dissent that would foreshadow the ruling six decades later in Brown v. Board of Education, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote that “separate but equal” rail cars were aimed at discriminating against Black Americans.
“In the view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens,” he wrote. “Our Constitution in 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 … 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.”