Law Dictionary

Plessy v. Ferguson

U.S. Case Law

legal Definition of Plessy v. Ferguson

163 U.S. 537 (1896), established the legality of racial segregation so long as facilities were kept “separate but equal.” An organized challenge to Louisiana laws concerning separate rail cars for blacks and whites was brought before the state supreme court but rejected and then taken on appeal to the Supreme Court. The latter court, too, held that separate accommodations did not infringe on black or white passengers' political equality but only made a legitimate social distinction. The case is ultimately as well known for the famous dissent by Justice John Marshall Harlan (the “Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens”) as for its place in civil rights history. It would be overturned by Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954).

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