While the vast majority of Americans consider themselves unprejudiced, many of us unintentionally make snap judgments about people based on what we see—whether it’s race, age, gender, religion, sexuality, or disability. The Love Has No Labels campaign challenges us to open our eyes to our bias and prejudice and work to stop it in ourselves, our friends, our families, and our colleagues. Rethink your bias at http://www.lovehasnolabels.com
by Tom Head
Updated March 03, 2017
The Supreme Court has issued some fantastic civil rights rulings over the years, but these aren’t among them. Here are ten of the most astonishingly racist Supreme Court rulings in American history, in chronological order.
Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856)
When a slave petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for his freedom, the Court ruled against him—also ruling that the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to African Americans. If it did, the majority ruling argued, then African Americans would be permitted “the full liberty of speech in public and in private,” “to hold public meetings upon political affairs,” and “to keep and carry arms wherever they went.” In 1856, both the justices in the majority and the white aristocracy they represented found this idea too horrifying to contemplate. In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment made it law. What a difference a war makes!
Pace v. Alabama (1883)
In 1883 Alabama, interracial marriage meant two to seven years’ hard labor in a state penitentiary. When a black man named Tony Pace and a white woman named Mary Cox challenged the law, the Supreme Court upheld it—on grounds that the law, inasmuch as it prevented whites from marrying blacks and blacks from marrying whites, was race-neutral and did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling was finally overturned in Loving v. Virginia (1967). More »
The Civil Rights Cases (1883)
Q: When did the Civil Rights Act, which mandated an end to racial segregation in public accommodations, pass? A: Twice. Once in 1875, and once in 1964.
We don’t hear much about the 1875 version because it was struck down by the Supreme Court in the Civil Rights Cases ruling of 1883, made up of five separate challenges to the 1875 Civil Rights Act. Had the Supreme Court simply upheld the 1875 civil rights bill, U.S. civil rights history would have been dramatically different.
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
Most people are familiar with the phrase “separate but equal,” the never-achieved standard that defined racial segregation until Brown v. Board of Education (1954), but not everybody knows that it comes from this ruling, where Supreme Court justices bowed to political pressure and found an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment that would still allow them to keep public institutions segregated. More »
Cumming v. Richmond (1899)
When three black families in Richmond County, Virginia faced the closing of the area’s only public black high school, they petitioned the Court to allow their children to finish their education at the white high school instead. It only took the Supreme Court three years to violate its own “separate but equal” standard by establishing that if there was no suitable black school in a given district, black students would simply have to do without an education. More »
Ozawa v. United States (1922)
A Japanese immigrant, Takeo Ozawa, attempted to become a full U.S. citizen, despite a 1906 policy limiting naturalization to whites and African Americans. Ozawa’s argument was a novel one: Rather than challenging the constitutionality of the statute himself (which, under the racist Court, would have probably been a waste of time anyway), he simply attempted to establish that Japanese Americans were white. The Court rejected this logic.
United States v. Thind (1923)
An Indian-American U.S. Army veteran named Bhagat Singh Thind attempted the same strategy as Takeo Ozawa, but his attempt at naturalization was rejected in a ruling establishing that Indians, too, are not white. Well, the ruling technically referred to “Hindus” (ironic considering that Thind was actually a Sikh, not a Hindu), but the terms were used interchangeably at the time. Three years later he was quietly granted citizenship in New York; he went on to earn a Ph.D. and teach at the University of California at Berkeley.
Lum v. Rice (1927)
In 1924, Congress passed the Oriental Exclusion Act to dramatically reduce immigration from Asia—but Asian Americans born in the United States were still citizens, and one of these citizens, a nine-year-old girl named Martha Lum, faced a catch-22. Under compulsory attendance laws, she had to attend school—but she was Chinese and she lived in Mississippi, which had racially segregated schools and not enough Chinese students to warrant funding a separate Chinese school. Lum’s family sued to try to allow her to attend the well-funded local white school, but the Court would have none of it.
Hirabayashi v. United States (1943)
During World War II, President Roosevelt issued an executive order severely restricting the rights of Japanese Americans and ordering 110,000 to be relocated to internment camps. Gordon Hirabayashi, a student at the University of Washington, challenged the executive order before the Supreme Court–and lost.
Korematsu v. United States (1944)
Fred Korematsu also challenged the executive order and lost in a more famous and explicit ruling that formally established that individual rights are not absolute and may be suppressed at will during wartime. The ruling, generally considered one of the worst in the history of the Court, has been almost universally condemned over the past six decades.
Members of the highly-decorated Nisei regiment received many of their military honors late in life.
I was looking at a list of honorary Texans recently. It is quite a long list. Only about a tenth of them would be known to most Texans. John Wayne – no surprise there. The only surprise is that it took until 2015 to make him one. Chuck Norris, born in Oklahoma, was made an honorary Texan a few months ago.
Gov. Rick Perry made many of his favorite political allies honorary Texans: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, and Glenn Beck, for example. George W. Bush made Bob Dylan an honorary Texan. Ann Richards chose Don McLean, Bob Hope, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among many others. Alan Shivers made General Douglas MacArthur an honorary Texan.
The one case that stands out to me as the most astounding in this honoring business – and to my mind, the most deserving – is when Gov. John Connally, in 1962, awarded honorary Texan status to thousands of men simultaneously. He made the entire 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion, C divisions of the U.S. Army for World War II, honorary Texans. As this year’s Veteran’s Day is fast approaching, I thought I would tell you how this came to be.
We must begin our story with the 1st Battalion of the 141st Regiment comprised of the Texas National Guard. Their nickname was the “Alamo Regiment.” In 1944, they were at the lead of a push to drive the Germans out of France. The battalion had a large supporting force during their campaign but they pushed ahead so fast in the Vosges Mountains that they found themselves cut off and surrounded behind enemy lines.
They became known in World War II lore as “The Lost Battalion.” The only good thing for the Texans is that they were on top of a mountain and so they had the classic advantage of high ground and line of sight. But they were still pounded by German artillery. It was foggy, rainy and very cold. They quickly dug fighting positions in the wet, muddy soil and covered themselves with tree limbs, rock and dirt. They did everything they could to provide cover from the splinters of tree bursts and shrapnel from exploding shells. They were also out of food and water. Exceptionally courageous pilots were able to fly through the rain and fog and airdrop small supplies of water purification pills, c-rations and ammunition to sustain them.
Activist Christine Sleeter is white, from a community with very little diversity, and admitted she knew almost nothing about her student’s background when she began teaching in Seattle.
Sleeter, an author and a teacher in addition to activist, spoke about how the teaching of ethnic studies, or the lack thereof, can be improved. Sleeter spoke in the Lory Student Center Thursday night as part of Colorado State University’s week-long Diversity Symposium.
Sleeter emphasized the importance of having multicultural education and an ability to think critically about what other groups have to go through. She said in doing so, people will start to become agents of social change.
“I mean, we have a president who can’t even figure out how to get resources to Puerto Rico,” Sleeter said.
Sleeter said changes in teaching styles and curriculum can be an effective way to get students to think more critically about their culture and the cultures of others.
School textbooks that are heavily focused on white perspectives are just one problem, according to Sleeter. Of those who teach K-12, 84 percent are white, Sleeter said; the combination can lead to classes that leave out important topics regarding multiple ethnic groups.
“The fragmented inclusion of people of color in the dominant curriculum leaves students of color feeling like, as Caroline Turner put it, guests in someone else’s house,” Sleeter said.
She said ethnic studies can give people the ability to address social problems. Sleeter said she wants to implement several strategies to create positive change in classrooms. Teachers need to treat students as intellectuals and develop strong relationships with them, according to Sleeter.
“Teaching involves collaboration with students, co-construction with students,” Sleeter said. “It isn’t just sage on the stage giving knowledge to students.”
Sleeter said classroom curriculum should focus on examining real social problems in student communities. Students should examine the roots of these problems, collect data and ultimately propose solutions to offer to their community.
Freshman biochemistry student Matthew Funk said he could relate to a lot about what Sleeter talked about, as he went to an elementary school where the majority of students were Latino. He said these topics should be articulated more at CSU where the demographic is dominantly white.
“These are issues that are important to understand and to be able to talk to each other about,” Funk said.
Funk said he agreed with a lot of the strategies Sleeter suggested regarding curriculum changes in K-12 schools, but thinks the logistics of implementing these changes could prove challenging.
Sleeter ended the evening with the idea that ethnic studies is not limited to one subject within a curriculum. She told a story of a former colleague, who wanted to infuse ethnic studies with his biology course. Her colleague wanted to examine how different world views influenced health and an understanding of science.
“It takes somebody looking at their discipline through an ethnic studies lens,” Sleeter said. “If you can make biology and ethnic studies go together, you can make everything go together.”
Collegian reporter Ty Betts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TyBetts9