Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sara K- AP II 2:50-4:40 "Dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson"

John Marshall Harlan "Dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson" 1896

Plessy v. Ferguson mandated "separate but equal." Jim Crow laws  refer to segregation laws and practices that came out of Plessy v. Ferguson. However, none of the separate schools or accommodations were actually "separate but equal" as demonstrated by the picture. Because "separate but equal" wasn't really equal Harlan wrote a dissenting opinon. Harlan disagreed with Plessy v. Ferguson and warned that it would be used to put African Americans in an inferior position. Laws were often used to deny African Americans rights- it took constitutional amendments to change that. And it wasn't until  Brown v. Board of Ed. was passed years later, that the doctrine of "separate but equal" would be overturned.

In Harlan’s dissenting opinion he proposes that people's color should not preclude them or limit them in any way- the legal system is supposed to protect their rights. In the second paragraph, when he says “When a white man and a black man choose to occupy the same public conveyance on a public highway, it is their right to do so, and no government, proceeding alone on grounds of race, can prevent it without infringing the personal liberty on each”, Harlan describes the situation of the Louisiana railroad cars.  He is very blunt about it, and is saying that it is obvious that they segregated the car to avoid people mingling together, and that is therefore an infringement on personal rights and freedom.

Harlan also says “In my opinion the judgment this day rendered will in time; prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by the tribunal in the Dred Scott case.” Harlan is saying that Plessy v. Ferguson will turn out as inhumane and unjust as the Dred Scott decision (the court ruled that no African slaves or descendants of slaves could ever be citizens.)

Later in Harlan’s dissent, he says that “But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens.” This is significant because it suggests that the Plessy v. Ferguson court decision goes against the constitution- it’s a contradiction. The United States is democratic, and at the same time there are these terrible racist laws. This is the implication of Harlan’s words because if the Constitution is truly “color blind” than all should have the same equal rights and there should be no division s into the lower and upper classes. Halan is saying that no matter what others think, it is horrible to create a climate of racism and discrimination than to let people mingle together.

The last line is crucial because once again, Harlan confirms that there are racist laws in a democratic country. This is evidenced by when he says “Such a system is inconsistent with the guarantee given by the Constitution to each State of a republican form of government, and may be stricken down by Congressional action, or by the courts in the discharge of their solemn duty to maintain the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” In the last paragraph of the dissent, Harlan also describes that in the arguments used in court, some people cited earlier statements in the law and court decisions and such that date from the time of slavery to justify their point. Harlan is saying that doesn't make sense and that should not be allowed because this is now a different time and that this is today, a time where equality is needed.

Source: Foner, E. (2005). Voices of freedom. (3rd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 54-59). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.