Forgotten History

Although David Cole’s review of Steve Luxenberg’s book Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey From Slavery to Segregation [“Inherently Unequal,” July 15/22] fails to delve into an important forerunner of this historic case, one hopes Luxenberg did not. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 expanded the 14th Amendment to include public accommodations, and this expansion was tested by a black man, Bird Gee, who was denied service at a hotel. His case made it to the Supreme Court, which not only ruled against Gee but used the case to annul the Civil Rights Act, thereby setting the stage for Plessy and 70 more years of Jim Crow. In a nifty coincidence, however, Gee’s grandnephew Loren Miller, a prominent civil rights attorney, filed the appellate briefs in 1954’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education, overturning Plessy and redeeming his granduncle’s heroic efforts.
Vincent Brook
los angeles

Debating Biden

It’s obvious that the powers that be at The Nation do not like Joe Biden and have recently published snippy, myopic little articles attacking him on narrow issues like his opposition to mandatory busing 45 years ago and his friendly nature, with friendships that have included some racist Republicans [“Biden and Segregation” by Jonathan Kozol, July 1/8, and “Pal Joey” by Jeet Heer, July 15/22]. What are you going to do when Biden gets the Democratic nomination in 2020? Are you going to support him, or are you going to continue your opposition to Biden and recommend voting for Trump?

You better get your act together. We live in an imperfect world. Let’s try to make it a little better.

Lyle Swenson
stillwater, minn.

Re Jeet Heer’s “Pal Joey”: Joe Biden lost me when he humiliated Anita Hill. He would be a terrible president. How can anyone vote for him simply because he would be better than Trump? My Persian cat Zeke would be a better president than Trump.
Jack Ox

I don’t want Biden to be the nominee, but I’m prepared to live with this possibility. What I find lacking in takedowns like this is a sufficient sense of historical context: Why would a number of prominent Democrats, not just Southerners, have tried to ride the wave of white urban backlash in the 1970s, especially after Richard Nixon’s victories over Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern? Remember Jimmy Carter’s remarks on “ethnic purity” while campaigning in 1976? As the maverick candidate and a presumed advocate for civil rights, he caught much flak for that remark, but I’m not sure there wasn’t a certain rearguard movement already entrenched within the party. I’m not excusing Biden for his chumminess with segregationists, but who was expecting a firebrand to rise from the Senate floor and shame them back then?
William Levine

Correction

Inherently Unequal” by David Cole [July 15/22] mistakenly states that Justice John Marshall Harlan was the Supreme Court’s only Southern justice when the court upheld segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson. In fact, he was one of two Southerners; Justice Edward Douglass White of Louisiana was the other.