The Science and Law of Race

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



The Civil War and its Constitutional Amendments notwithstanding, social integration was abhorrent to both northern and southern whites as late as the 1920s. The 1875 Civil Rights Act, passed by a Union Congress at the end of Reconstruction has been mischaracterized as an “integration” statute. Rather it was a “separate but equal” statute fully consistent with the mandate of Plessy v. Ferguson twenty years later. American Progressives developed a liberal social conscience about wealth distribution and the rights of labor, but these were combined with an aggressive “managed” racism that forced racial separation in education, housing, and sexual contact. These views were supported by social science, or “Brandeis briefs,” making the scientific case for state-mandated segregation. Only after anthropology and social science began to become more environmentalist in the 1930s did these scientific attitudes change.


race, Plessy, separate but equal, segregation, Brandeis brief

Publication Title

The Opening of American Law: Neoclassical Legal Thought, 1870-1970