Characters Surrounding Landmark Plessy v. Ferguson Case Have Fascinating Roots in Detroit

Stephen Henderson speaks with Steve Luxenberg, author of “Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation.”

Most people know at least a little about Plessy v. Ferguson, the 19th-century Supreme Court ruling that enshrined the concept of “separate but equal” in American law and gave power to Jim Crow.

But do you really know the stories of Plessy v. Ferguson?

About Homer Plessy, the plaintiff in the case, chosen by an abolitionist group in New Orleans to test the laws of separation?

About Henry Billings Brown, the Justice who wrote the Plessy decision, who has deep roots right here in Detroit?

About Justice John Marshall Harlan, the only justice who dissented in Plessy, and his unlikely legacy of civil rights activism from the bench?

Steve Luxenberg is the author of “Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation.” It tells the story of Plessy through the characters who made up its narrative arc. Drawing on intimate correspondence and diaries, Luxenberg shows how Plessy moved from a simple ruling to the bedrock of racial separation into the 20th century.

Luxenberg is also a Detroit native and did some of the research for the book here in the city.

He joins Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to talk about the book, the case, and its roots in Detroit. 

Click on the audio player above to hear that conversation.

This interview originally aired February 20, 2019.


  • Detroit Today
    Dynamic and diverse voices. News, politics, community and the issues that define our region. Hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson, Detroit Today brings you fresh and perceptive views weekdays at 9 am and 7 pm.