Tonight, I remembered having to memorize the facts of Plessy v. Ferguson in high school for an American History exam. I remember at the time trying to memorize the name and significance: it declared that it was legal to have different public spaces for black and white people. In my head, because I was trying to pass the exam, the only space that I consciously thought about was a leisure train, which I had never been on at the time. Because I’m considering how integrated public school education developed in the U.S., Plessy v Ferguson has started to matter for me, deeply, for the first time. It established federal law for separate but equal treatment of race.
What a crazy concept: the idea that people of different races are so different from each other that a federal law needs to assure everyone that it is true, they are in fact DIFFERENT, but also equal. The law cases leading up to Brown v Board of Education all had to address Plessy v. Ferguson, because the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling provided federal mandate to separate races. This was only 50 years ago.