Bad Laws, Part 2

Jim Crow Laws, the Nuremberg Laws, Bill C-51, Sudanese apostasy and the common sundae. Plus news & pop culture. Part 2 of 2.

Music: “Let the Punishment Fit the Crime” by Erskine Hawkins



One Response

  1. The Plessy v. Ferguson story is actually even crazier than the part that you guys told. Homer Plessy was chosen by a black and mixed-race activist group in New Orleans (the Comite des Citoyens) because he looked for all the world like a white man and thus would be allowed into the part of the train designated for white people, and also because he wouldn’t leave any children behind if he were lynched, because he didn’t have any. Before he boarded the train, the Comite des Citoyens actually called the railroad company to tell them that Plessy was actually “colored” and that he was going to be violating the law at this specific time and place, so please arrest him; when the train conductor came to check his ticket, Plessy informed him that he actually had one black great-grandparent and ought to be arrested. They also hired a private detective to board the train with him to make sure he was arrested for violating the Separate Car Act. I think they were worried the railroad company wouldn’t enforce the law, because they had actually opposed it (since it would require them to buy more train cars), and they thought that this was the best opportunity to get the Supreme Court to strike down segregation laws that were sprouting up across the country, mostly in the South. By the time the case got to the Supreme Court, however, the court’s composition had changed, and they lost big time. The majority held that racial segregation did not demean black people, as Plessy and his lawyers had argued, but that black people were just being touchy. No kidding: “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument 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 one justice who dissented from this opinion, John Marshall Harlan, included some great rousing defenses of equality under the law. He also wound up his dissent with the weird implication that if Louisiana were segregating black people, who were citizens of the US and may have served in the US military, they ought to segregate “Chinamen” too: “a race so different from our own that we do not permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States”.

    Also, in the particular case of the railroad car Homer Plessy boarded, the areas for black and white passengers were actually the same. This, of course, wasn’t true for most accommodations during the segregation era. Another interesting fact: From the 30s to the 60s, a book called “The Negro Motorist Green Book” was published that advised black people taking road trips where they could get gas, stop for lunch, etc. Many hotels and restaurants at this time in the North as well didn’t accept black customers either.