Just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of going to the New Orleans Mint to celebrate the Plessy Vs. Ferguson case that went to the Supreme Court in 1896 which endorsed the concept of separate but equal. Many of you know the case where a Black man tried to force the issue of equality by simply saying since he bought a ticket for a seat on a train that the ticket should be honored. But as we all know Homer Plessy lost that case before the Supreme Court and segregation would be the law of the land until the famous post World War Two 1954 case of Brown Vs. The Board of Education. That case decided unanimously, would undo segregation and be the legal basis for the Civil Rights Rebellion of the 1950’s and 60’s.
But what if the 1896 case had gone the other way? Would it be possible that America would have been a shining example of human rights for the world? Just think of the lives that might have been saved if the United States endorsed the Human Rights of Black people in the 1890’s instead of not doing so. I think of this because of the Jewish Holocaust that took place in Nazi Germany during Hitler’s reign. What if America had stood up for Black people back then would the Holocaust have gone off as it did exactly?
Let’s look at that question starting with an article in the Business Insider which explored a meeting, which took place about a year and a half into Hitler’s Chancellorship, of the leading Nazi lawyers which would result in the Nuremberg Laws, the centerpiece of anti-Jewish legislation of the Nazi race regime. This meeting had a long discussion of the Jim Crow segregation laws and whether they should bring those laws to the new Reich. They reviewed the 30 US States which outlawed interracial marriages. The Nazis dug deep into the ideas of who was Black or White by United States Law. The most ardent Nazis in the room loved the American Segregation Laws. Laws which would be used to open the concentration camps and the ovens to the Jewish populations of Nazi conquered countries. Hitler himself wrote in his infamous book Mein Kampf that the United States was the one state that had made progress toward the creation of a healthy racist society. Of course, after the Nazis seized power they would continue to look at the United States for inspiration. As the late 19th and early 20th Centuries showed that the United States led the world in racist lawmaking, a lot of which was not confined to the South but also in the North, East and West. You may have heard of the term, second-class citizenship. It was the laws maintaining second-class citizenship that fascinated the Nazis. Hitler also stated that the settlers had shot down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand. So why shouldn’t he have thought that he and his Reich could eliminate millions for the greater Germany as the United States had done in the west for the greater America?
The German Nazis believed that White Supremacy made America great and a leading power in the modern world at that time, and they thought if it worked for America, it would work for them.
But what if some of that had been avoided by letting a Black man on a train in 19th Century Louisiana to have his seat as his ticket indicated? Imagine the United States having integration as the law of the land and perhaps moving on from there. Imagine Woodrow Wilson not throwing Black people out of the Federal Civil Service because the Supreme Court went the other way in 1896? America still becomes a great power without the crudest forms of White Supremacy and Hitler is on his own as he tries to figure out how the United States succeeded without his odious ideas of White Supremacy. Perhaps the escaping Jews from 1930’s Germany might have been welcomed and the Japanese would not have all been put into concentration camps right after Pearl Harbor. Maybe it just might have been possible to stop or mitigate the Holocaust, maybe put Germany on notice because wherever they got the idea to kill six million people, it would not have been from the United States of America. Maybe because Homer Plessy’s ticket would have been honored.