Berea College v. Kentucky , was a
significant case argued before the United States
Supreme Court that upheld the rights of states to prohibit
private educational institutions chartered as corporations from
admitting both black and white students.
the related Plessy v.
case, it was
also marked by a strongly worded dissent by John Marshall Harlan
. The ruling also
is a minor landmark on the nature of corporate personhood
Berea College is a coeducational and desegregated school founded in 1855, admitting both blacks and
whites students and treating them without discrimination. In 1904, the "Day Law"
was passed by the Kentucky legislature, prohibiting any person, group of
people, or corporation from the teaching of black and white
students in the same school, or from running separate branches of a
school for the teaching of black and white students within
twenty-five miles of each other.
Since at the time Berea was
the only such integrated school in Kentucky (and the only such
in the South), it was clearly the
target of this law. After Berea College's challenge to the law
failed before the Kentucky
Court of Appeals (although the distance provision was struck
down), the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state. Justice Brewer
delivered the main
opinion that as the corporation
question was chartered under the laws of the state of Kentucky, it
was within the rights of the state to make such prohibition to the
college. While the state might not have the right to thus restrict
the actions of private individuals, that portion of the law was a
separate issue, and not under direct consideration; and that the
rights and restrictions on individuals were not necessarily the
same as for corporations.
Justice Harlan vigorously dissented, arguing that the formal title
of the law, "An Act to Prohibit White and Colored Persons from
Attending the Same School," and the nature of its provisions made
clear that no such distinction between individual and corporate
restriction existed in the intentions of the legislators, and that
the separate consideration of those aspects of the law was not
appropriate. Harlan furthermore declared, "(t)he capacity to impart
instruction to others is given by the Almighty for beneficent
purposes and its use may not be forbidden or interfered with by
Government—certainly not, unless such instruction is, in its
nature, harmful to the public morals or imperils the public safety.
The right to impart instruction, harmless in itself or beneficial
to those who receive it, is a substantial right of
property—especially, where the services are rendered for
compensation. But even if such right be not strictly a property
right, it is, beyond question, part of one's liberty as guaranteed
against hostile state action by the Constitution of the United
The result of the ruling was to allow states to prohibit integrated
schooling in private institutions
as well as in public
. Kentucky eventually amended the Day
in 1950 to allow voluntary integration
, shortly prior to the
case which struck down racial segregation