Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2002 Annual Meetings of the American Political Science Association and Western Political Science Association. I am grateful for the helpful comments I received from audience members and discussants on both panels. I also wish to thank Harry Hirsch, Tracy Strong, George Lipsitz, Tom Kim, Benjamin Marquez, Steven Light, and several anonymous reviewers for their valuable insights, as well as Constance Jordan for generous editorial assistance.
Plessy as “Passing”: Judicial Responses to Ambiguously Raced Bodies in Plessy v. Ferguson
Article first published online: 25 AUG 2005
Law & Society Review
Volume 39, Issue 3, pages 563–600, September 2005
How to Cite
Golub, M. (2005), Plessy as “Passing”: Judicial Responses to Ambiguously Raced Bodies in Plessy v. Ferguson. Law & Society Review, 39: 563–600. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-5893.2005.00234.x
- Issue published online: 25 AUG 2005
- Article first published online: 25 AUG 2005
The Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) is infamous for its doctrine of “separate but equal,” which gave constitutional legitimacy to Jim Crow segregation laws. What is less-known about the case is that the appellant Homer Plessy was, by all appearances, a white man. In the language of the Court, his “one-eighth African blood” was “not discernible in him.” This article analyzes Plessy as a story of racial “passing.” The existence of growing interracial populations in the nineteenth century created difficulties for legislation designed to enforce the separation of the races. Courts were increasingly called upon to determine the racial identity of particular individuals. Seen as a judicial response to racial ambiguity, Plessy demonstrates the law's role not only in the treatment of racial groups, but also in the construction and maintenance of racial categories.