Memphis v. Greene 451 U.S. 100 (1981)

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MEMPHIS v. GREENE 451 U.S. 100 (1981)

Because the City of Memphis blocked a street at the point where a white neighborhood bordered a black neighborhood, residents of the black neighborhood had to drive around the white neighborhood in order to get to and from the city center. Black residents brought a class action against the city, seeking an injunction to keep the street open. They failed in the federal district court, but the court of appeals held that the closing violated their right to hold and enjoy property, guaranteed by the civil rights act of 1866.

The Supreme Court, with Justice john paul stevens writing for a 6–3 majority, rejected the statutory claim, saying the street closing had caused only minor inconvenience, and had not damaged the plaintiff's property values. The question remained whether the thirteenth amendment, of its own force, forbade anything but slavery itself. The Court did not reach this broad question, saying only that the street closing here was not a badge of servitude. Justice thurgood marshall, for the dissenters, scored the majority for ignoring "the plain and powerful symbolic message of the 'inconvenience' ": to fence out "undesirables."

Kenneth L. Karst