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Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903
February 15 2011
About the Author – Lawrence Goldstone is the author of Dark Bargain: Slavery, Profits, and the Struggle for the Constitution, and The Activist: John Marshall, Marbury v. Madison, and the Myth of Judicial Review. He lives in Westport, Connecticut.
About the Book – Between 1865 and 1870, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the U.S., the 14th conferred citizenship and equal protection under the law to all Americans, white or black, and the 15th gave black American males the right to vote. In 1875 the far-reaching Civil Rights Act granted all Americans regardless of color “the full and equal enjoyment” of public conveyances and places of amusement. Yet eight years later, in 1883, the Supreme Court, by an 8-1 vote, overturned the Civil Rights Act as unconstitutional, arguing Congress had overstepped its authority. As Lawrence Goldstone pointedly acknowledeges, in the next 20 years despite “by the dawn of the 20th century the U.S. had become the nation of Jim Crow laws, quasi-slavery, and precisely the same two-tiered system of justice that had existed in the slave era.” How and why this happened—and the ramifications and reverberations unto today—is the subject of the powerful and provocative Inherently Unequal.
As he has done before, Goldstone challenges the conventional view of history through a rigorous examination of the historical record. He makes clear the Supreme Court—in cases as celebrated as Plessy v. Ferguson and the equally important Williams v. Mississippi —was deeply guilty by association, turning a blind eye to the obvious reality of Jim Crow, preferring to focus instead on constituional minutiae, and demonstrating the fallacy and hypocrisy of a strict interpretation of the Constitution. He reveals clear evidence that the great black migrations north were less about seeking opportunity than about escaping tyranny. At a time when our legacy with race continues to be so much discussed, and given endless interest in the history of the Supreme Court, Goldstone’s book will command attention.