Library Journal Review
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) established the notion of "separate but equal" as law, until that decision was overturned in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education. Luxenberg (senior editor, Washington Post; Annie's Ghost) presents a masterly narrative of the case and its roots, dating back to 1838, relating a complex story told through the lives of Supreme Court Justices John Marshall Harlan (1833-1911) and Henry Billings Brown (1836-1913); Albion Tourgee (1838-1905), author, lawyer, and civil rights firebrand; and the 11,000 free people of color of New Orleans. The author adroitly incorporates accounts of these three men, their wives, and many lesser-known residents with the unfolding racial turmoil brought about by the Civil War and Reconstruction. This engrossing work builds to the courtroom drama in which Tourgee argues passionately but unsuccessfully on behalf of Homer Plessy to a Supreme Court, including, Brown, who wrote the majority opinion, and Harlan, the onetime slave owner, whose only dissenting vote revealed separate but equal hypocrisy. VERDICT In the sweeping style of Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, this work will be enthusiastically received by informed readers and historians and is likely to become the seminal work on this crucial Supreme Court decision.-Karl Helicher, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
The 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the legality of "separate but equal" facilities for white and black Americans, is widely viewed as the beginning of the jim crow era in the South, but, as journalist Luxenberg convincingly argues, it was the result of decades of debate about race relations. The case of Homer Plessy, a New Orleanian "fair-skinned enough to cause confusion" about which car he should occupy on the state's segregated trains, was actually a test case engineered by the city's community of mixed-racial-heritage people, who saw their prestige and power slipping away as the nation moved toward a less nuanced conception of race. In lucid prose, Luxenberg lays out the history of racialized segregation in the North and South of the United States and offers vivid portraits of main actors in this civil rights struggle, from ex-slave abolitionist Frederick Douglass to judge John Marshall Harlan (raised in Kentucky, but a staunch supporter of the Union during the Civil War) and lawyer Albion Tourgee, whose Civil War military service awakened him to the "full awfulness" of slavery. Some readers may find this exhaustively researched account excessively wordy and too detailed, but Luxenberg provides a useful take on one of the Supreme Court's most influential decisions. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.