A man walks into a train station. But this is no joke.
In 1890, Louisiana passed a Jim Crow law called the Separate Car Act of 1890. The law required that railroad companies provide “equal but separate accommodations for white and colored races.”
On June 7, 1892, Mr. Homer Plessy, an African American, challenged that law by taking a seat in a Whites-only rail car, and refusing to leave when ordered. He was arrested, as intended, and jailed.
Plessy filed a petition against the presiding judge, Hon. John H. Ferguson, claiming that the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Ultimately, the case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. And on May 18, 1896, the Supremes, that august body of black-robed, racist Old White Men, ruled that “separate but equal” accommodations were just fine in These United States. In one fell swoop, the Supreme Court gutted the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and legalized all manner of segregationist laws.
Thus did the Supreme Court raise Jim Crow laws to the high art of institutionalized racism: the official stand of These United States, in which Whitey was officially deemed by the American Constitution itself to be Superior to Black Americans (or so said that most illustrious body of the Final Arbiters of Intent and Meaning, the tea leaf readers of the Supreme Court).
It was not until 1954 when the Supremes even tried to put an end to the damage they’d caused America, by ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that perhaps “separate but equal” might not be quite as perfect a union as God had intended for America.
Still, the Jim Crow laws died slowly, painfully, and only with the greatest resistance among Homo euro-americanus (aka, Southern White Man). It took the Civil Rights movement another quarter-century or so to make significant headway. And it took many the lives of many civil rights advocates, most of whom go unrecognized by name to this day.
Nor was the Civil Rights movement the end of it all. Many of those segregationist and discriminatory laws that were begun immediately when the South lost the Civil War, continue to haunt America to this day. Our criminal justice system, employment, housing laws, real estate zoning laws, our public health systems, medical care, education system, banking and finance, and nearly all other institutions of the Great American Experiment still incorporate remnants of racist law from the Jim Crow days and Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896.
But no one should kid themselves that this racism was only found among Southern Whites. It was, and remains to this day, alive and flourishing among Whites throughout the nation. And institutional racism is deeply entrenched still.
The USA was conceived and born as a racist, segregationist, slave-holding, genocidal nation. Our hard-denied legacy lives on every day, in everything we do and experience as Americans.
No matter what our color.