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Thursday, February 15, 2007
Legal Shenanigans
Before Ruby Bridges. . .
Before Linda Brown. . .
Before Homer Plessy. . .
Before Dred Scott. . .

There was Sarah Roberts.

Frederick Douglass often advocated for pursuing claims for blacks through the court system. He felt that the justice system should be "color blind" and the Constitution should uphold equal rights for all. Despite appearances, all was not going well for free blacks living in the North before the Civil War. Despite the North's stand on slavery, they weren't quite ready yet to move to full integration mode.

On February 15, 1804, New Jersey joined the rest of her Northern sister states in abolishing slavery. But, just because slavery was abolished didn't mean that integration happened. There were many laws mandating segregation throughout the north both before and after the Civil War.

So, where does Sarah Roberts fit into this discussion? Sarah Roberts was denied admission to a school in Boston. She sued the city for the right to be admitted. The Massachusetts Supreme Court didn't agree with her assertion that the Constitution was "color blind" and that segregation was the result of prejudice. Justice Lemuel Shaw wrote "This prejudice, if it exists, is not created by law, and probably cannot be changed by law." Nearly 50 years later, the U.S. Supreme Court would rely on the Massachusetts case in creating the doctrine of "separate, but equal" in the case of Plessy v Ferguson.

On this date in 1848, Sarah Roberts was ejected from a school in Boston. How old was she?


Blogger robynl said...
5 yrs. old - my goodness!!

Blogger Denise Patrick said...
It's amazing what we will do for our children or put them through in the name of "rights and equality" isn't it? Ruby Bridges was also 5 years old and hearing her story (and watching it - they made it into a movie) made me wonder how she survived. But, in a later interview, she said it made her strong and convinced her that she could do almost anything.

"What doesn't kill us can only make us stronger." I don't remember who said it, but I think it's true.

Congrats Robyn!

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