The New York Times reported on its front page the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Catharine Brown's case. The case aroused Republicans to reconsider the intent and purpose of the Congress in the midst of the Civil War because it turned on the railroad's Congressional charter from 1863 which clearly barred any discrimination on the basis of race or color. The railroad's main argument before the Supreme Court rested first on the idea that separate cars were customary, locally sanctioned, and equally accommodated, and second on the specious reasoning that because they carried colored passengers they had not violated the Congressional charter--colored persons were carried, just in a different car. The spirit of the Congress in 1863, the Court decided, suggested otherwise. The decision, however significant and newsworthy, was sorely limited in its application. Only a handful of railroads in the District of Columbia possessed such language in their originating charters.

In the case of Catharine Brown, colored, against the Washington, Alexandria and Georgetown Railroad Company to recover damages for personal injuries in being put out of the ladies' car, the Supreme Court to—day affirmed the judgment for the plaintiff, holding that the court below had jurisdiction and that the action was properly sustained against the company, although the road was operated by the lessees and receiver, and that the act of 1866, permitting a change of route to Washington, did not relive the road from the requirement of the act of 1863, authorizing its extension across the Potomac River, which was that no person should be excluded from their cars on account of color. The court say that it is idle for the company to urge that they always permitted travel on their road without making any distinction on account of color, because they had always carried colored people in their cars. That was not the requirement exacted by Congress. It was that there should be no discrimination in the use of the cars on account of color, and that in respect of such use colored and white should be placed on an equality. This condition was imposed by Congress and accepted by the company, and the latter cannot now evade it. There was no danger that any railroads would refuse to carry colored people in their cars. Self—interest would prevent such a refusal, and it was not necessary for Congressional action to provide against the contingency. Mr. Justice Davis delivered the opinion. This does not decide the general question of the right of the railroad companies to make regulations separating the races in their cars, in the absence of charter provisions prohibiting it.

About this Document

  • Publisher: New York Times
  • Published: New York, NY
  • Citation: 1, 1
  • Date: November 18, 1873