Cover image for Separate : the story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America's journey from slavery to segregation
Title:
Separate : the story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America's journey from slavery to segregation
ISBN:
9780393239379
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W. W. Norton & Company, [2019]

©2019
Physical Description:
xxii, 600 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Contents:
Taking their seats : Massachusetts, 1838-1843 -- Harlan of Kentucky : 1853-1857 -- Brown of New England : 1856-1857 -- Tourgee of Ohio : 1858-1860 -- The free people of color : New 0rleans, 1860 -- "The Harlan name" : Kentucky, 1858-1862 -- "A war of which no man can see the end" : Brown in Detroit, 1860-1864 -- "For this I am willing to die" : Tourgee on the march, 1861-1863 -- "Claim your rights" : New Orleans and Washington, 1863-1864 -- Choosing sides : Harlan in Kentucky, 1865-1871 -- "A taste for judicial life" : Brown in Detroit, 1866-1872 -- Tourgee goes South : North Carolina, 1865-1870 -- Equal but separate : New Orleans and the north, 1867-1871 -- "Is not Harlan the man?" : Kentucky and Washington, 1875-1878 -- "Uncongenial strifes" : Brown and Tourgee, 1875-1879 -- Fool's errand : north and south, 1880-1883 -- The color line sharpens : 1883-1888 -- "The Negro question" : Mayville, Washington, and New Orleans, 1889-1890 -- "On behalf of 7,999,999 of my race" : New Orleans, Mayville, Detroit, and Washington, 1890-1891 -- Arrest : Mayville and New Orleans, 1892-1893 -- "You are fighting a great battle" : Washington, Mayville, and New Orleans, 1893-1895 -- In the nature of things : March, April, May 1896 -- Epilogue.
Summary:
A myth-shattering narrative of how a nation embraced "separation" and its pernicious consequences. Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court case synonymous with "separate but equal," created remarkably little stir when the justices announced their near-unanimous decision on May 18, 1896. Yet it is one of the most compelling and dramatic stories of the nineteenth century, whose outcome embraced and protected segregation, and whose reverberations are still felt into the twenty-first. Separate spans a striking range of characters and landscapes, bound together by the defining issue of their time and ours--race and equality. Wending its way through a half-century of American history, the narrative begins at the dawn of the railroad age, in the North, home to the nation's first separate railroad car, then moves briskly through slavery and the Civil War to Reconstruction and its aftermath, as separation took root in nearly every aspect of American life. Award-winning author Steve Luxenberg draws from letters, diaries, and archival collections to tell the story of Plessy v. Ferguson through the eyes of the people caught up in the case. Separate depicts indelible figures such as the resisters from the mixed-race community of French New Orleans, led by Louis Martinet, a lawyer and crusading newspaper editor; Homer Plessy's lawyer, Albion Tourgée, a best-selling author and the country's best-known white advocate for civil rights; Justice Henry Billings Brown, from antislavery New England, whose majority ruling endorsed separation; and Justice John Harlan, the Southerner from a slaveholding family whose singular dissent cemented his reputation as a steadfast voice for justice. Sweeping, swiftly paced, and richly detailed, Separate provides a fresh and urgently-needed exploration of our nation's most devastating divide.
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Summary

Summary

Plessy v. Ferguson , the Supreme Court case synonymous with "separate but equal," created remarkably little stir when the justices announced their near-unanimous decision on May 18, 1896. Yet it is one of the most compelling and dramatic stories of the nineteenth century, whose outcome embraced and protected segregation, and whose reverberations are still felt into the twenty-first.

Separate spans a striking range of characters and landscapes, bound together by the defining issue of their time and ours--race and equality. Wending its way through a half-century of American history, the narrative begins at the dawn of the railroad age, in the North, home to the nation's first separate railroad car, then moves briskly through slavery and the Civil War to Reconstruction and its aftermath, as separation took root in nearly every aspect of American life.

Award-winning author Steve Luxenberg draws from letters, diaries, and archival collections to tell the story of Plessy v. Ferguson through the eyes of the people caught up in the case. Separate depicts indelible figures such as the resisters from the mixed-race community of French New Orleans, led by Louis Martinet, a lawyer and crusading newspaper editor; Homer Plessy's lawyer, Albion Tourgée, a best-selling author and the country's best-known white advocate for civil rights; Justice Henry Billings Brown, from antislavery New England, whose majority ruling endorsed separation; and Justice John Harlan, the Southerner from a slaveholding family whose singular dissent cemented his reputation as a steadfast voice for justice.

Sweeping, swiftly paced, and richly detailed, Separate provides a fresh and urgently-needed exploration of our nation's most devastating divide.


Author Notes

Steve Luxenberg is the author of Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America's Journey from Slavery to Segregation and the critically acclaimed Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret. During his thirty years as a Washington Post senior editor, he has overseen reporting that has earned numerous national honors, including two Pulitzer Prizes. Separate won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the legality of "separate but equal" facilities for white and black Americans, is widely viewed as the beginning of the jim crow era in the South, but, as journalist Luxenberg convincingly argues, it was the result of decades of debate about race relations. The case of Homer Plessy, a New Orleanian "fair-skinned enough to cause confusion" about which car he should occupy on the state's segregated trains, was actually a test case engineered by the city's community of mixed-racial-heritage people, who saw their prestige and power slipping away as the nation moved toward a less nuanced conception of race. In lucid prose, Luxenberg lays out the history of racialized segregation in the North and South of the United States and offers vivid portraits of main actors in this civil rights struggle, from ex-slave abolitionist Frederick Douglass to judge John Marshall Harlan (raised in Kentucky, but a staunch supporter of the Union during the Civil War) and lawyer Albion Tourgee, whose Civil War military service awakened him to the "full awfulness" of slavery. Some readers may find this exhaustively researched account excessively wordy and too detailed, but Luxenberg provides a useful take on one of the Supreme Court's most influential decisions. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

IN THE SPRING OF 1890, Albion Tourgée, who had fought for the Union in the United States Army and then against the Ku Klux Klan as a Reconstruction judge, received an invitation to address a conference in upstate New York on the "Negro Question" hosted by the Quaker philanthropist Albert Smiley. Tourgée was an ideal choice: He had remained engaged in the struggle for equality long after many white people had lost interest. But as Steve Luxenberg shows in "Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Feruguson, and America's Journey From Slavery to Segregation," Tourgée was tempted to stay home. Longtime allies were boycotting the conference, with the encouragement of black newspaper editors and activists. Their complaint was simple: Not a single "Negro" had been invited. Yet in response to the protest, organizers doubled down. "A patient is not invited to the consultation of the doctors on his case," Lyman Abbott wrote in The Christian Union. Tourgée attended and lectured a roomful of liberal reformers, educators and clergymen for over an hour. He celebrated the progress freedmen had made since emancipation, wondered if the churches had forgotten who Christ was and what he stood for, and criticized the presumption of the guest list: "We have sought testimony about the Negro from his avowed friends and confessed enemies, and think we shall obtain the truth by 'splitting the difference' between them. The testimony of the Negro in regard to his past and present conditions and aspirations for the future is worth more than that of all the white observers that can be packed upon the planet." This incident, which comes toward the end of Luxenberg's absorbing book, is a valuable reminder of something easy to forget. Not that the North also had a race problem; no sentient American should be able to forget that. Rather, that in the century after Reconstruction, segregation was not the worst possible outcome for black people. There was also exclusion (not separate schools but no schools) and elimination. Thousands of African-Americans were murdered by lynching alone. There is no escaping exclusion and elimination in a book about race in the United States, but Luxenberg's focus is on the battle against segregation. He begins in Massachusetts in the 1840 s with an abolitionistled victory over Jim Crow cars on the railroads and ends 50 years later with two crushing defeats. In what came to be known as the Civil Rights Cases of 1883, the Supreme Court overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which had guaranteed equal access to public conveyances, accommodations, recreation and juries. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the court upheld a Louisiana law mandating separate railroad cars, thereby upholding the constitutionality of segregation. Luxenberg, a senior editor at The Washington Post and the author of "Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret," braids brief narratives of legal battles together with intimate, cradle-tograve portraits of three key figures in Plessy: John Marshall Harlan, Henry Billings Brown and Tourgée. Harlan was a slaveholding Kentucky lawyer and politician. In his first run for Congress he accused his Democratic opponent of being soft on the expansion of slavery in the territories. Harlan ultimately opposed secession and fought against the Confederacy, but he also opposed the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln's reelection bid, and the 13th and 14th Amendments. He was nominated to the Supreme Court by Rutherford B. Hayes, who was eager to appoint a Southerner but feared that he could not get a nominee from farther south than Kentucky confirmed. Brown was born in Massachusetts and attended both Yale and Harvard law schools (though he failed to obtain a degree from either). He practiced law in Michigan, specializing in Great Lakes shipping. Before a short stint as a district court judge in Memphis, he had barely touched Southern soil. Although Brown was no radical, while campaigning for General Grant he called the Democrats the party of slavery and the Klan. He was appointed to the Supreme Court by Benjamin Harrison in 1890, the same year that the Louisiana Legislature enacted a Separate Car Act, "to promote the comfort of passengers on railway trains." Tourgée was an Ohioan who, as late as 1860, had teased his fiancee for her antislavery views. He was radicalized by the war and even more by his experience after it as a judge in North Carolina. Tourgée was not uncritical of Reconstruction - he called his best-selling novel based on his time in the South "A Fool's Errand, by One of the Fools." But he agreed with his black friends that Reconstruction's failures followed not from Northern overreach but from timidity. Tourgée took the case challenging Louisiana's law on behalf of the Comité des Citoyens - black, white and Creole - led by the New Orleans newspaper editor Louis Martinet. Tourgée's client, Homer Plessy, was a shoemaker with skin as light as Robert E. Lee's. Tourgée argued in his brief to the Supreme Court that even if there were a clear and simple way to distinguish black from white, which there wasn't, the law violated both the 13th and 14th Amendments, intended by Congress to make the Constitution "colorblind." Luxenberg's history contains so many surprises, absurdities and ironies that it would be a shame to spoil the final chapters by revealing which justice ended up on which side. One, writing for the majority, mocked the idea that the law was a violation of the 13 th Amendment and insisted that the 14th Amendment, whatever its legal objectives with respect to equality, could, "in the nature of things," hardly have been intended "to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either." The other justice, alone in his dissent, conceded that the white race was dominant and likely to remain so. But, he argued, when it comes to the law, there is "no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens." He predicted, correctly, that segregation laws would increase race hatred and that the decision would in time prove to be as pernicious as Dred Scott. Along with the court cases and the three lovingly researched lives, Luxenberg devotes many lively and illuminating pages to race and politics in New Orleans. That's a lot for one book. Still, the subtitle of "Separate" is misleading. Only the last section is about Plessy, and the book is not the story of "America's journey from slavery to segregation." In fact, there was no such journey. There was slavery and segregation in antebellum Southern cities, just as there was segregation in the antebellum North. After emancipation, there was freedom and segregation (and exclusion and elimination). The subtitle is also misleading because separate and unequal extended far beyond transportation and accommodations to education, employment, health care, credit, housing and criminal justice. Understanding the rash of late-19th-century segregation laws, like the rash of disfranchisement laws, means asking questions about who wanted them and why. For answers, historians have looked at the efforts (often those of liberals and progressives) to contain the explosive mixture of race, gender and political conflict in growing Southern cities; the emergence of the black middle class and the entry of black women into politics; the Woman Suffrage Movement; the Populist Movement; the determination of black people to hold on to the rights and power they gained during Reconstruction; and the determination of white people to take those rights and that power away. Segregation is not one story but many. Luxenberg has written his with energy, elegance and a heart aching for a world without it. JAMES Goodman, distinguished, professor of history and creative writing at Rutgers University, Newark, is the author of "Stories of Scottsboro," "Blackout" and "But Where Is the Lamb?"


Library Journal Review

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) established the notion of "separate but equal" as law, until that decision was overturned in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education. Luxenberg (senior editor, Washington Post; Annie's Ghost) presents a masterly narrative of the case and its roots, dating back to 1838, relating a complex story told through the lives of Supreme Court Justices John Marshall Harlan (1833-1911) and Henry Billings Brown (1836-1913); Albion Tourgee (1838-1905), author, lawyer, and civil rights firebrand; and the 11,000 free people of color of New Orleans. The author adroitly incorporates accounts of these three men, their wives, and many lesser-known residents with the unfolding racial turmoil brought about by the Civil War and Reconstruction. This engrossing work builds to the courtroom drama in which Tourgee argues passionately but unsuccessfully on behalf of Homer Plessy to a Supreme Court, including, Brown, who wrote the majority opinion, and Harlan, the onetime slave owner, whose only dissenting vote revealed separate but equal hypocrisy. VERDICT In the sweeping style of Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, this work will be enthusiastically received by informed readers and historians and is likely to become the seminal work on this crucial Supreme Court decision.-Karl Helicher, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Table of Contents

Author's Notep. xi
Prologue April 1896p. xiii
Cast Of Charactersp. xxi
Part I Ambition
Chapter 1 Taking Their Seats • Massachusetts, 1838-1843p. 3
Chapter 2 Harlan of Kentucky • 1853-1857p. 25
Chapter 3 Brown of New England • 2856-1857p. 47
Chapter 4 Tourgee of Ohio • 1858-1860p. 69
Chapter 5 The Free People of Color • New Orleans, 1860p. 91
Part II War
Chapter 6 "The Harlan Name" • Kentucky, 1858-1862p. 107
Chapter 7 "A War of Which No Man Can See the End" • Brown in Detroit, 1860-1864p. 131
Chapter 8 "For This I Am Willing to Die" • Tourgee on the March, 1861-1863p. 153
Chapter 9 "Claim Your Rights" • New Orleans and Washington, 1863-1864p. 175
Part III Ascent
Chapter 10 Choosing Sides • Harlan in Kentucky, 1865-1871p. 193
Chapter 11 "A Taste for Judicial Life" • Brown in Detroit, 1866-1872p. 215
Chapter 12 Tourgee Goes South • North Carolina, 1865-1870p. 237
Chapter 13 Equal but Separate • New Orleans and the North, 1867-1871p. 261
Part IV Precipice
Chapter 14 "Is Not Harlan the Man?" • Kentucky and Washington, 1875-1878p. 281
Chapter 15 "Uncongenial Strifes" • Brown and Tourgee, 1875-1879p. 305
Chapter 16 Fool's Errand • North and South, 1880-1883p. 329
Chapter 17 The Color Line Sharpens • 1883-1888p. 351
Chapter 18 "The Negro Question" • Mayville, Washington, and New Orleans, 1889-1890p. 373
Part V Resistance
Chapter 19 "In Behalf of 7,999,999 of My Race" • New Orleans, Mayville, Detroit, and Washington, 1890-1891p. 397
Chapter 20 Arrest • Mayville and New Orleans, 1892-1893p. 419
Chapter 21 "You Are Fighting a Great Battle" • Washington, Mayville, and New Orleans, 1893-1895p. 443
Chapter 22 "In the Nature of Things" • March, April, May 1896p. 465
Epiloguep. 489
Acknowledgmentsp. 507
Notesp. 513
Sourcesp. 571
Indexp. 581