Williamjames Hoffer Looks at the Supreme Court Decision That Brought About a Half Century of 'Separate But Equal'
July 9, 2013
In defiance of an 1890 Louisiana law prescribing "equal but separate accommodations" on public transportation, a mixed-blood Creole named Homer Plessy -- who appeared to be white but was legally considered black -- boarded a train car reserved for whites. He informed the conductor that he was a Negro and was arrested.
Plessy's arrest and conviction was part of a larger carefully planned scheme to challenge Louisiana laws in matters of race. But when in 1896 the Supreme Court considered Plessy's appeal of his conviction, the justices voted 7 to 1 to uphold both the Louisiana statute and the state's police powers to enforce it.
Historian Williamjames Hull Hoffer examines that controversial decision and its repercussions in a discussion of his book Plessy v. Ferguson: Race and Inequality in Jim Crow America on Tuesday, July 23, 2013, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Plessy v. Ferguson allowed the creation of an official system of racial segregation under the separate but equal doctrine that would last deep into the 20th century, until 1954's Brown v. Board of Education and other cases helped overturn it.
Hoffer particularly focuses on Justice John Marshall Harlan's classic dissent, in which he stated, "Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among its citizens."
Hoffer is an associate professor of history at Seton Hall University. Among his books are The Caning of Charles Sumner, The Abortion Rights Controversy in America: A Legal Reader, and The Supreme Court: An Essential History.
This program is the second in the Legal Landmarks series co-presented by the Kansas City Public Library, the Truman Library Institute, and the Federal Court Historical Society. It is funded by grants from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Legacy Fund with additional support provided by Spencer Fane Britt & Browne LLP. The series is co-sponsored by the University Press of Kansas and the University of Kansas School of Law.
Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. RSVP at kclibrary.org
or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available in the Library District Parking Garage at 10th & Baltimore.