Virtual Conference: Plessy v. Ferguson and the Legacy of “Separate but Equal” After 125 Years

Cover of the Russell Sage journal issue on Plessy v. Ferguson

Tuesday, May 18, 2021
11:00 a.m.–1:30 p.m. CT

Update: Registration for the conference webinar is full. We will post a link to watch the panels via a livestream the day of the conference.

May 18 marks the 125th anniversary since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Plessy v. Ferguson case. In acknowledgment of the decision’s lasting impact, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota; the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University; and the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley are hosting a virtual conference offering a retrospective on possible connections between the Supreme Court’s approval of state-imposed racial segregation and ongoing racial disadvantages and inequities.
 
The conference seeks to further discussions started in the recently published journal, Plessy v. Ferguson and the Legacy of “Separate but Equal” After 125 Years, edited by renowned scholars Professors Susan Gooden, Samuel Myers, Jr., and john a. powell. The journal was published by the Russell Sage Foundation in March 2021.
 
The conference will take place via Zoom in one continuous webinar. Those watching via the livestream will be able to submit comments and questions via email.

Conference Agenda

Opening: Setting the foundation for the day’s panels (11:00 a.m. CT)

  • Greetings and Acknowledgement of Sponsors – Dr. Samuel Myers, Jr.
  • Background and Context of the Volume

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About Samuel Myers, Jr. (Volume Co-Editor)

Samuel L. Myers, Jr. is the Roy Wilkins Professor of Human Relations and Social Justice at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. He is the co-author of Race Neutrality: Rationalizing Remedies to Racial Inequality (Lexington Press, 2018). He is now writing a new book for Russell Sage Foundation Press tentatively titled The Minnesota Paradox – Racial Inequality and Progressive Public Policy.

The legal history of Plessy v. Ferguson (11:10 a.m. CT)

The Law and Significance of Plessy
Dr. john a. powell

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Abstract: The Law and Significance of Plessy

powell examines the legal history that precluded and followed the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, setting up the historical context and significance of the case. Here, powell shows the embeddedness of structural racism in the American legal system and the slow work done to untangle racism from the law.

About john a. powell (Volume Co-Editor)

john a. powell is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of civil rights, civil liberties, structural racism, housing, poverty, and democracy. powell is the director of the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, a research institute that brings together scholars, community advocates, communicators, and policymakers to identify and eliminate the barriers to an inclusive, just, and sustainable society and to create transformative change toward a more equitable world.

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Abstract: Who Gets to Say Who's Who?

Plessy v. Ferguson’s legacy reaches far beyond Jim Crow’s “separate but equal” doctrine to perpetuate state control of personal identity. The 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld white supremacy’s slave law power to say who’s who, epitomized in state power to declare some human beings not persons but mere property. It sanctioned government power to identify and categorize individuals and to direct their actions and interactions based on such identities and categories. In perpetuating unchecked state determination of individual identities, Plessy persists in its insidious denial of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. To reestablish birthright personal autonomy over identity free of state subordination requires reforming U.S. law to recognize and accept the individuality of human diversity. Such a process requires abolishing state authority to arbitrarily assign personal identity by decree and recognize the basic personal autonomy of individuals to define, redefine, and express their individual identities.

About the author: Thomas J. Davis

Thomas J. Davis, Ph.D., JD, is an historian, lawyer, and professor emeritus at Arizona State University, Tempe, where he taught US constitutional and legal history. An internationally recognized legal scholar, he is author of nine books, including Plessy v. Ferguson (2012), History of African Americans: Exploring Diverse Roots (2016), and Race Relations in America (2006).

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Abstract: Harlan’s Dissent

In his dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote, “Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” Racial conservatives have argued that Harlan’s dissent should invalidate policies that partially redress the historical injuries inflicted on African Americans. The author discusses his article which contends that the concept of colorblindness misstates Harlan’s central claim.

About the author: Douglas S. Reed

Douglas S. Reed is a Professor of Government and Director of the MA program in Educational Transformation at Georgetown University. He teaches and writes about education politics and policy-making, as well as civil rights. His interests include education reform, equality in education, and the nature of educational governance. He is the author, most recently, of Building the Federal Schoolhouse, published by Oxford University Press.

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Abstract: Does the Negro Need Separate Schools?

W.E.B. Du Bois asserted that black students are better served by attending predominantly black schools than hostile integrated schools in a context of racial discrimination. The conventional assumption is that black students benefit educationally by attending schools with more white peers, which have access to greater resources. However, the theory of the functionality of discrimination advances the idea that black students may face greater discrimination in school settings with numerous white peers as a result of a competitive process and white appropriation of preferred resources. Using the National Survey of Black Americans, the authors find evidence of a nonmonotonic relationship between high school racial composition and years of schooling completed, high school graduation, likelihood of being employed, and likelihood of owning a home. 

About the authors: Timothy M. Diette, Darrick Hamilton, Arthur H. Goldsmith, and William A. Darity, Jr.

Tim Diette joined the Washington and Lee University Office of the President as the Senior Advisor to the President for Strategic Analysis in June of 2018. For the 2020–21 academic year, he will also serve as the acting director of the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability. Prior to his current position, he served as the Associate Dean of the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics and as the acting head of the Economics Department. Professor Diette joined Washington and Lee University in 2004 as a visiting professor and as a tenure-track faculty member in 2006.

Darrick Hamilton is a university professor, the Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy, and the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Race, Stratification and Political Economy at The New School. Considered one of the nation’s foremost scholars, economists and public intellectuals, Hamilton’s accomplishments include recently being profiled in The New York TimesMother Jones, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as being featured in Politico’s 2017 "50 Ideas Shaping American Politics and the People Behind Them" issue. Also, he is a member of the Marguerite Casey Foundation in partnership with the Group Health Foundation’s inaugural class of Freedom Scholars.

Professor Arthur H. Goldsmith joined the Williams School faculty in 1990 after teaching previously at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Connecticut in Storrs. In addition to teaching course on macroeconomics and on race he has also taught courses on behavior economics, the bell curve, and economic themes in literature and film. Many of the courses he leads incorporate service learning, and virtually all of them are interdisciplinary oriented since they draw on insights from other disciplines to foster a deeper understanding of the topics being explored. A global perspective is also emphasized.

William A. (“Sandy”) Darity, Jr. is the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics and the director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University. He has served as chair of the Department of African and African American Studies and was the founding director of the Research Network on Racial and Ethnic Inequality at Duke. Previously he served as director of the Institute of African American Research, director of the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program, director of the Undergraduate Honors Program in economics, and director of Graduate Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Abstract: Separate and Unequal Under One Roof

The authors discuss their use of administrative data from three cohorts of North Carolina public high school students to examine the effects of within-school segregation on the propensity of academically eligible black high school students to take advanced math courses. 

About the authors: Dania V. Francis and William A. Darity, Jr.

Dr. Dania V. Francis is Assistant Professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts Boston. Her current research involves using experimental and quasi-experimental methods to identify structural causes of racial and socioeconomic academic achievement gaps. 

William A. (“Sandy”) Darity, Jr. is the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics and the director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University. He has served as chair of the Department of African and African American Studies and was the founding director of the Research Network on Racial and Ethnic Inequality at Duke. Previously he served as director of the Institute of African American Research, director of the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program, director of the Undergraduate Honors Program in economics, and director of Graduate Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Impacts on space/housing (12:20 p.m. CT)

Segregated Spaces and Separated Races: The Relationship Between State-Sanctioned Violence, Place, and Black Identity
Tia Sherèe Gaynor, Seong C. Kang, Brian N. Williams

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Abstract: Segregated Spaces and Separated Races

The authors explore segregation and the social status of black people, focusing in particular on the ripple effects of Plessy v. Ferguson on policing in the United States. Specifically, they ask how the legacy of Plessy v. Ferguson has helped maintain state-sanctioned, racially based violence. They draw from Mapping Police Violence, which compiles data on the number of police-involved homicides in large police departments in the United States from 2013 to 2017. Using these data, they analyze the relationship between space and the number of deaths of black people caused by police. 

About the authors: Tia Sherèe Gaynor, Seong C. Kang, and Brian N. Williams

Tia Sherèe Gaynor, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Cincinnati. Her research focuses on issues related to social (in)justice, cultural competency, and social equity within a U.S. and global context, particularly as it relates to underrepresented and marginalized populations. Specifically, her work explores intersectionality in public management and policy.

Dr. Seong C. Kang received his Ph.D. in Public Administration and Policy with a concentration in public management from the University of Georgia. He is interested in how local governments utilize various service delivery arrangements to provide public services. His current research examines citizen participation in the delivery of public services through initiatives such as volunteering and coproduction and how this improves organizational performance and accountability.

Professor Brian N. Williams' research centers on issues related to race, policing, and public governance. He explores how the experiences and perceptions of police officers and community residents affect their willingness to engage with each other as partners in the co-production of public safety and public order.

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Abstract: "Separate, Therefore Equal"

In rejecting Plessy v. Ferguson’s “separate but equal” doctrine in Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court created a presumption that segregation equals discrimination. However, alongside this assertion, American space has become increasingly separate. A socio-legal analysis identifies three generations of spatial segregation in the United States and calls for recognizing the fourth generation—separate, therefore equal—in which minority communities require voluntary self-segregation to achieve equality. 

About the author: Shai Stern

Dr. Shai Stern is an associate professor of law at the Bar Ilan University Law School. Dr. Stern received his Ph.D. from the Zvi Meitar Center for Advanced Legal Studies at Tel Aviv University and his LLB (cum laude) from Bar-Ilan University and was admitted to the Israeli Bar Association. Until 2011, he worked as a lawyer at S. Horowitz & Co. law firm, where he specialized in commercial litigation, dispute resolution, planning and construction, and administrative law.

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Abstract: Plessy's Legacy

Plessy v. Ferguson provided the foundation for a system of segregation and exclusion that adversely affected African Americans throughout the twentieth century. Segregation was perpetuated by federal policies. During the 1940s and 1950s, the federal government facilitated the construction of suburban communities with Veterans Administration– and Federal Housing Authority–insured mortgages. These agencies invented redlining and required lending institutions to insert racially restrictive covenants in deeds for properties they insured. In the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government facilitated the construction of the interstate highway system. The freeways were frequently constructed through African American neighborhoods, displacing the residents. Urban renewal programs caused the destruction of African American communities across the nation. This long and tragic history of structural racism continues to adversely affect the well-being of African American families.

About the author: Leland Ware

Professor Leland Ware has been the Louis L. Redding Chair for the Study of Law and Public Policy at the University of Delaware since 2000. Before his present appointment, he was a professor at St. Louis University School of Law from 1987 to 2000. He was a visiting professor at Boston College Law School in 1992 and at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, in 1997. Professor Ware was University Counsel at Howard University from 1984 to 1987. For the five years prior to his position at Howard, he was a Trial Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, in Washington, D.C. He had previously practiced with a private firm in Atlanta, Georgia, and with the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Professor Ware's research focuses on various aspects of Civil Rights law. He has authored more than 100 publications consisting of academic journal articles, book chapters, essays, book reviews, and editorials in academic journals and other publications.

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Abstract: Confronting the Legacy of "Separate but Equal"

Rarely do the public, community leaders, or policymakers engage the history of structural racialization. Despite this lack of public awareness, a large body of literature illustrates the importance of urban development history as a mechanism of upholding the philosophy of segregation upheld by Plessy v. Ferguson. The history of structural racialization in development is fundamental to understanding contemporary challenges such as segregation, concentrated poverty, and racial disparities. The following case study explores two Ohio community-based initiatives (in Cleveland and Columbus) that used historical analysis of racial discrimination in development practices as the focus of a community engagement process. Surveys, participant observations, and interviews document the outcomes, benefits, and impacts associated with engaging stakeholders using historical records of discrimination to inform contemporary policymaking. 

About the author: Jason Reece

Jason Reece is an assistant professor of city and regional planning at the Knowlton School and a faculty affiliate at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity. His work broadly focuses on social equity and justice in the context of planning history, theory and practice. More specifically, his research seeks to understand the role of planning in fostering a built and social environment which supports a just city and healthy communities. At the Knowlton School Jason teaches courses in equity planning, community development, land use law, planning theory and planning history. He also teaches as a summer instructor in the College of Public Health Summer Population Health program and for the OSU College of Medicine’s Aspire program.

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Abstract: Legacies of Segregation and Disenfranchisement

The authors explore how voter ID laws further the dismantling of voting rights and the promises of full political engagement for racial minorities, especially African Americans. The authors highlight the racial politics that inform the emergence of these laws, and the racial intent and impact these laws have in diluting minority voting access and therefore political power. Their study begins with a short historical overview of voting rights since the eradication of slavery, then offers background on the current legal climate in which voter ID laws are situated.  

About the authors: Paru Shah and Robert S. Smith

Paru Shah is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Her research and teaching focuses on race, ethnicity and politics, urban politics, and public policy in an American context. Recent work focuses on the political emergence, ambitions, and paths to office for candidates of color and women candidates in local and state elections.

Dr. Robert S. Smith is the Harry G. John Professor of History and the Director of the Center for Urban Research, Teaching & Outreach at Marquette University. His research and teaching interests include African American history, civil rights history, and exploring the intersections of race and law. Dr. Smith is the author of Race, Labor, and Civil Rights: Griggs v. Duke Power and the Struggle for Equal Employment Opportunity.

Closing: What’s next? Where do we go from here? (12:55 p.m. CT)

A conversation with the journal's editors: Professors Susan Gooden, Samuel Myers, Jr., and john a. powell

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About Susan Gooden (Volume Co-Editor)

Susan T. Gooden, Ph.D., is dean and professor of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is an internationally recognized expert on social equity. Gooden is an elected fellow of the congressionally chartered National Academy of Public Administration and is past president of the American Society for Public Administration. She is Vice President of the Network of Associated Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) and will begin her presidential term in October 2021. Her books include Global Equity in Administration (Routledge, 2020); Why Research Methods Matter (Melvin and Leigh, 2018); Race and Social Equity: A Nervous Area of Government (Routledge, 2014); and Cultural Competency for Public Administrators (Routledge, 2012). Her research has been funded by several organizations including the Russell Sage Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, MDRC, and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

About the Organizers

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About the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

Ranked No. 38 among 285 graduate schools of public affairs by U.S. News & World Report and No. 19 in Social Policy, the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University advances excellence in governance and promotes evidence-based public policy in Virginia and beyond. The school offers an array of graduate, post baccalaureate and doctoral programs in virtually every policy area including criminal justice, homeland security and emergency preparedness, public administration, public policy and administration, and urban and regional studies and planning. The Wilder School is also home to several robust centers that provide applied research in the areas of state and local government, social equity and leadership and a range of services to clients in state and local government, nonprofit organizations, businesses and the general public.

About the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley

The Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley brings together researchers, organizers, stakeholders, communicators, and policymakers to identify and eliminate the barriers to an inclusive, just, and sustainable society in order to create transformative change. We are a diverse and vibrant hub generating work centered on realizing a world where all people belong, where belonging entails being respected at a level that includes the right to both contribute and make demands upon society and political and cultural institutions.

About the Russell Sage Foundation

The Russell Sage Foundation was established by Margaret Olivia Sage in 1907 for “the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States.” It dedicates itself to strengthening the methods, data, and theoretical core of the social sciences in order to better understand societal problems and develop informed responses. The foundation supports visiting scholars in residence and publishes books and a journal under its own imprint. It also funds researchers at other institutions and supports programs intended to develop new generations of social scientists.