Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

September 13, 1919

On September 13, 1919, the Philadelphia Tribune reported on a congressional debate regarding segregation on interstate railroad traffic. The Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) decision upheld the legality of segregated railroad cars and established the doctrine of “separate but equal” in other public accommodations. Illinois Congressman Martin Madden spoke against this law. “The Government has no right to draft its citizens in defense of its flag and compel them to yield their lives that the country may be able to live, and at the same time say to those people that their rights are inferior to those of other citizens of the United States,” Madden said. “We think the negroes in the South should be treated as in the North.” Madden faced opposition from Southern legislators, including Louisiana’s Jared Sanders Sr. “Our negroes down South knowing they are not welcomed in the white man’s coach don’t go in there,” Sanders argued. “Negroes in my communities are treated better than in your city of Chicago and better than they were in East St. Louis or Springfield Ill. a few years ago.” The Tribune article concluded, “The sudden, blind irresponsive delusion into which our Southern Congressmen have just fallen can only be removed as the light of discretion dawns upon them and leads them to see the vision of their own folly.”      

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