r892 Homer Plessy defied a Louisiana law that required railroad com-
panies carrying passengers within the state to "provide equal but sepa-
rate accommodations for the white, and colored, races."
Fully aware of
the law and intending to challenge it, Plessy took a seat in a train car
designated for white passengers, announced that he was a "Negro" to the
conductor, and refused to move. As he expected, Plessy was promptly
a series of trials and appeals, Plessy and his lawyers eventu-
ally took the case to the United States Supreme Court, which, despite
a vigorous dissent by Justice Harlan, upheld the segregationist Louisi-
ana law through its infamous "separate but equal" pronouncement in
the aftermath of the failures of Reconstruction, the Supreme
Court ruling marked a moment when the racialization of American
culture had been dramatically articulated and reconfigured. Although
racial segregation had long been entrenched as a de facto practice in
many regions of the United States, the r896 ruling formally and explic-
itly hardened racialized boundaries in new ways. This legalized system
of segregation recalled slavery's racialized distinctions between "slave"
and "free" but reconfigured this binary by articulating it in exclusively
racial terms, the imagined division between "black" and "white" bodies.
Plessy v. Ferguson
ushered in a nationwide and brutal era of
"Jim Crow" segregation, an institutionalized apartheid that lasted well
into the twentieth century.2
decision was only one of many sites at which antiblack
violence, symbolic and embodied, was enacted during this period. The
ruling legitimated the white-supremacist logic that also accounted for
the unprecedented numbers of lynchings that took place between r889
and r930.3 Foreign policy mirrored the racialized violence taking place
internally. During this same period, the United States pursued expan-
sionism in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Panama, and the Philippines, jus-
tifying such domination through the discourse of a "civilizing mission"