Michael Klarman, Neither Hero nor Villain: The Supreme Court, Race, and the Constitution in the Twentieth Century: Chapter 2: The Progressive Era (U. Va. Sch. of L. Legal Studies Working Papers Series, Working Paper No. 99-3b, June 1999).
Abstract: Chapter 2 of my forthcoming book examines and interprets the four sets of race-related cases that the Supreme Court decided in the 1910s -- the peonage cases (Bailey v. Alabama and United States v. Reynolds), the grandfather clause cases (Guinn v. Oklahoma and Myers v. Anderson), the residential segregation case (Buchanan v. Warley), and the separate-and-unequal transportation case (McCabe v. Atchison, T.&S.F.R. Co.). The chapter first investigates the extralegal context surrounding these decisions, arguing that American race relations reached a nadir during the Progressive era. Next, I consider the apparent paradox that in the midst of this oppressive sociopolitical context, the Court handed down four significant victories for the civil rights cause. The chapter contends that this paradox is more apparent than real. The Progressive era race decisions, I argue, are best understood as indicating a minimalist commitment to constitutionalism -- that is, the very least that a straight-faced commitment to constitutionalism entailed -- rather than any advance in the Justices' support for racial equality. The chapter also examines the practical effects of the four sets of decisions, concluding that they had essentially no impact on actual racial practices. I conclude by examining the possible symbolic importance of these civil rights victories, as well as the possibility that their principal significance may be the litigation's contribution to the process of mobilizing a civil rights consciousness in the black community.