|Alum made mark on Civil Rights movement
RELEASED: Feb. 14, 2002
DANVILLE, KY-Thanks to one of its most esteemed graduates, Centre College has a story that merits retelling during Black History Month.
John Marshall Harlan, Class of 1850, served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court for nearly 34 years.
Harlan refused to endorse segregation. Nearly 60 years before the famous Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case that found the practice of "separate but equal" violated the14th Amendment of the Constitution, Justice Harlan had come to that same conclusion. The Brown v. Topeka Board of Education ruling drew heavily on Justice Harlan's written opinions.
In the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice Harlan cast the lone dissenting vote in the case that made "separate but equal" law. Plessy v. Ferguson arose out of a Louisiana statute that required separation of white and black passengers traveling within the state on passenger trains. Plessy, who was of mixed ancestry but considered a Negro under Louisiana law, was arrested and jailed for taking a seat in a "white" coach and refusing to move to a "colored" car. The Supreme Court of Louisiana upheld Plessy's conviction, and he appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
A majority of the court affirmed the conviction and held that the statute didn't violate the constitution. However, Justice Harlan (who served on the high court until his death in 1911) insisted that the 14th Amendment requires the states to accord equal treatment to all Americansregardless of race or previous condition of servitude.
More than half a century later, Centre graduate Fred M. Vinson also was involved in court cases relating to the Civil Rights movement.
Vinson, who graduated from Centre in 1909 and from Centre's law school in 1911, served on the Supreme Court from 1946 until his death in 1953. Vinson died shortly before getting to see the 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case through.
However, Vinson's court wrote several decisions that laid the groundwork for the Brown case to come up for consideration.
- end -
600 W. Walnut Street
Danville, KY 40422
Public Information Coordinator: Telephone 859-238-5714