Separate But (Un)Equal: Why Institutionalized Anti-Racism Is The Answer To The Never-Ending Cycle Of Plessy v. Ferguson

Maureen Johnson *

Do as I say, not as I do. For decades, Plessy v. Ferguson has been identified as one of the worst decisions ever handed down by the Supreme Court. In a near unanimous opinion, the Justices found nothing unconstitutional about a law that required African Americans to ride in a separate boxcar from their white counterparts. In fact, the ruling even seemed progressive at the time as it required that the separate boxcars be qualitatively the same. Justice Harlan authored the sole dissent that housed his infamous prophecy that the Plessy decision “in time, [would] prove to be quite as pernicious” as the Dred Scott decision. Yet despite universal condemnation, America still has not learned to truly rid itself of the lingering effects of Plessy.

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* Associate Clinical Professor, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. The author thanks all of her colleagues at Loyola, specifically including Associate Dean for Research Justin Levitt, as well as the author’s research assistant, Faith Lewis, a sophomore at American University. The author also thanks all of those who participated in the 2017 Legal Writing Institute Writers Workshop, where this paper was workshopped. In particular, this author thanks Professors Christine Coughlin, Aliza Milner, and Elizabeth Sherowski.