Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 46

WORTH READING

The 'Separate But Equal'
Legacy of Plessy
Review by James A. Johnson

S

eparate: The Story of Plessy v.
Ferguson and America's Journey
From Slavery to Segregation is
an account of race and inequality
and how a nation embraced
separation in almost every aspect
of American life.

Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company

Author Steve Luxenberg, an associate editor
at the Washington Post, starts his outstanding
work with "Where should I sit?" This simple
question confronts him every time he boards
the commuter train that shuttles him to his job
in Washington, D.C. He tries to imagine what
train passengers encountered at the end of the
19th century when complying with the new
requirement in many southern states for blacks
to sit in a specially designated car. The law gave
conductors the authority of a judge and the
power of a police officer, a point that history
books miss.
In Plessy, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that
Louisiana's Separate Car Act of 1890 did not
violate the 14th Amendment, upholding Jim
Crow laws for public facilities as long as the
segregated facilities were equal.
Luxenberg points out what most people do
not know about the case: Homer Plessy was
a light-skinned black man with Caucasian
features, so much so that not even black people
could definitively determine that Plessy was
African American. He could easily have passed
for white.
A Creole organization, the Citizens' Committee
to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car
Law, intended for Plessy to be arrested for
refusing to move to the Jim Crow railroad car.

46 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2020

That fact alone should rouse the intellectual
curiosity of readers so they turn the pages of
Luxenberg's richly detailed prose.
Even the railroad industry had agreed to participate to settle the constitutional question before
spending money on extra cars. Luxenberg's
vivid account of how the legal strategies were
developed from the Louisiana courts to the
Supreme Court should be of great interest to
lawyers and laypeople alike.
Plessy is one of the most compelling and
dramatic stories of the 1800s. It protected
segregation and illuminates the origin of the
attitudes that we live by today. Plessy's reverberations are still relevant in the 21st century.
Black people will tell you without hesitation
that racism in America is alive and well. Racism
is enforced both consciously and unconsciously,
and it is maintained by legal and cultural
institutions in our society, affecting people
economically, socially, and educationally. The
author emphasizes that dealing with racism
is a constant battle, partly because it's more
than a personal attitude - it is the institutional
form of that attitude.
Luxenberg brings to life the complex notions
that dominate conversations about race in
America today. Based on this book, the reader
can entertain and even conclude that race is a
made-up label, a social construct to effectuate
a restrictive binary. Separate gives the reader
intimate knowledge on how we got to the
place where we are today and what the future
might bring.

James A. Johnson of James A. Johnson, Esq. is
a historian and trial lawyer. He concentrates on
serious personal injury, insurance coverage, and
federal criminal defense. He can be reached at
JamesAJohnsonEsq.com.


http://www.JamesAJohnsonEsq.com

Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar Of Events
The Opioid Litigation Wars
The Art Of Wellness: Law Firms Get Creative
Combating Secondary Trauma
Debating The Path Forward On Health Care Reform
Taking The Stand
On Further Review
Member Spotlight
Worth Reading
Attorney Briefs
Speaking Of Ethics
Disciplinary Summaries
Community & Connections
Special Section: Counting Down To The 2020 Conference
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 1
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 2
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 3
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 5
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 7
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 9
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 11
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Calendar Of Events
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 13
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - The Opioid Litigation Wars
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 15
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 16
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 17
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 18
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 19
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - The Art Of Wellness: Law Firms Get Creative
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 21
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 22
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 23
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 24
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 25
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Combating Secondary Trauma
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 27
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 28
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 29
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 30
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 31
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Debating The Path Forward On Health Care Reform
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 33
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 34
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 35
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 36
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 37
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Taking The Stand
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 39
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 41
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 43
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 44
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 46
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Speaking Of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 49
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Community & Connections
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Special Section: Counting Down To The 2020 Conference
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 53
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 54
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - 55
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Last Word
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - January/February 2020 - Cover4
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