March 5, 2013
In 1896 the United States Supreme Court handed down one of its most shameful decisions in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, rejecting the argument that the segregation between whites and blacks on trains in the state of Louisiana violated the principle of equality.
“We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument,” the court wrote in words that today are considered to be one of the most embarrassing moments in U.S. judicial history, “to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”
The U.S. Supreme Court did not reject the notion that “separate but equal” can indeed be equal until more than half a century later. In the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, it ruled that racial segregation in public schools violated the principle of equality before the law.