John Harris Civil Rights Battle

 August 2, 1897 newspaper headline regarding the law suit reads,
August 2, 1897 newspaper headline regarding the law suit.

4th of July, 1897. It's a scorcher in old San Fran. A group of friends decides to cool off by taking a trip out to Sutro Baths, but after paying the entrance fee one of the friends, San Francisco native John Harris, is denied entry to the pools because he's black.

Mr. Harris decided to sue Adolph Sutro, owner of the baths. In a landmark case, just one year after the reprehensible Supreme Court decision Plessy vs. Ferguson that upheld separate but equal segregation policy for public spaces, Mr. Harris brought his case before the San Francisco Superior Court under California's Dibble Civil Rights Act, which declared: all citizens "of every color or race whatsoever" shall "be entitled to the full and equal" facilities of "all places of public accommodation or amount."

The suit was successful, but personally for Mr. Harris, the victory was bittersweet, as the amount he won in damages was insufficient even to cover his legal expenses. The case, however, spurred a wave of suits across the state in the wake of Harris' eventual success.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Last updated: March 2, 2021