Of Color Lines and Race Lines: John Marshall Harlan, W.E.B. Du Bois, and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in a Colorblind Regime

Phillip Hutchison


The life of the first Justice Harlan has been the subject of myriad studies, largely inspired by his declaration “Our Constitution is color-blind,” which appeared in his storied dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson. This article interrogates unaddressed angles of his dissent that, when given proper attention, can deliver fruitful insights into his intentions behind the colorblind metaphor. The focus is primarily trained upon Harlan’s concept of the “race line,” which he referenced twice in his dissent. Placing this “race line” up against the colorblind Constitution will reveal that he purposed to keep whites educationally and financially dominant “for all time” by means of (colorblind) legal racial equality. The article delves further into the race line by juxtaposing it with W.E.B. Du Bois’s notion of the “color line,” which was voiced at the same moment of Plessy.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.22158/wjssr.v4n4p270


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