Posted on June 7, 2021 at 2:00 PM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

John Marshall Harlan isn’t as well known as many other historical Supreme Court justices.

But he cast a key vote in a case many of us at least know by name: 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson, endorsing racial segregation.

Specifically, he cast the only dissenting vote in the case — and while his opinion held no legal power, the author of a new book about Harlan says that it carried huge emotional power in the Black community.

Peter Canellos told Morning Edition’s Steve Inskeep that Harlan’s dissent was, in fact, read out loud in Black churches and printed in newspapers, as a glimmer of hope.

He added that Harlan was actually born into a slave-owning family, making his dissent even more remarkable.

For more insights from Canello’s new book, The Great Dissenter: The Story of John Marshall Harlan, America's Judicial Hero, you can read his interview on NPR’s website or listen to the segment below.

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