In the landmark case of Plessy v. Ferguson decided in 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States gave its sanction to the "separate but equal" doctrine in the interpretation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. More particularly, the Court held that a state statute requiring racial segregation in railway service did not result in a denial of the equal protection of the laws. This decision did not go unchallenged. Kentucky-born Justice John Harlan remonstrated in a dissenting opinion of extraordinary force. Crying out like a lone voice in the wilderness he predicted that the judgment declared that day would "prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott case." Justice Harlan did not live to see the vindication of his dissenting opinion. The Fourteenth Amendment became firmly encrusted with the separate-but-equal interpretation adopted in the Plessy case. Countenanced by this interpretation, legally coerced segregation became a common pattern of life in a substantial segment of the American community.
Paul G. Kauper,
SEGREGATION IN PUBLIC EDUCATION: THE DECLINE OF PLESSY V. FERGUSON,
Mich. L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol52/iss8/3