America's Journey from Slavery to Segregation
Steve Luxenberg presents the myth-shattering story of how our nation embraced separation and the devastating consequences of that decision. Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court case synonymous with "separate but equal," created remarkably little stir when the justices announced their nearly unanimous decision on May 18, 1896. Yet it is at the center of one of the most dramatic stories of the 19th century, and its cultural reverberations are still felt today.
Wending his way through a half century of American history, Luxenberg begins at the dawn of the railroad age in the North, home to the nation’s first separate railroad car, and then moves through the Civil War and Reconstruction to its aftermath: separation taking root in nearly every aspect of American life. 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: 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.
Luxenberg's new book, Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America's Journey from Slavery to Segregation, has been long listed for the 2019 Cundill History Prize, an international award recognizing the best history writing in English.
Luxenberg photo © Josh Luxenberg
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