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Separate but not Equal: The Supreme Court's First Decision on Racial Discrimination in Schools

Kousser, J. Morgan (1980) Separate but not Equal: The Supreme Court's First Decision on Racial Discrimination in Schools. Journal of Southern History, 46 (1). pp. 17-44. ISSN 2325-6893.

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In 1899, three years after the “separate but equal” decision of Plessy v. Ferguson, the U. S. Supreme Court for the first time confronted the problem of racial discrimination in education. Writing for a unanimous court, Justice John Marshall Harlan, whose recently refurbished reputation rests chiefly on his liberal opinions in Negro rights cases, decided in effect that the judiciary would do no more to guarantee equality in public services than it had to stop legalized segregation. " ... the education of the people in schools maintained by state taxation is a matter belonging to the respective States," the justice, who was rarely a protector of states' rights, concluded, "and any interference on the part of Federal authority with the management of such schools cannot be justified except in the case of a clear and unmistakable disregard of rights secured by the supreme law of the land. We have here no such case to be determined …. " Attracting even less attention at the time than Plessy did, the case of Joseph W. Cumming, James S. Harper, and John C. Ladeveze v. School Board of Richmond County, Ga. has never received the attention Plessy gained in the wake of the outlawing of segregation in the 1954 Brown decision.

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Additional Information:© 1980 Southern Historical Association. Reprinted in Kermit L. Hall, Civil Rights in American History (Garland Pub. Co., 1989); in Paul Finkelman, Race, Law, and American History, 1700-1900 (Hamden, CT: Garland, 1992).
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Deposited On:05 Sep 2013 21:00
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