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1530s, past participle adjective from separate (v.). In reference to married couples deciding to live apart, from 1878.
"detached, kept apart," c.1600, from separate (v.) or from Latin separatus. Separate but equal in reference to U.S. segregation policies on railroads is attested from 1888. Separate development, official name of apartheid in South Africa, is from 1955. Related: Separately (1550s); separateness.
Frequently the colored coach is little better than a cattle car. Generally one half the smoking car is reserved for the colored car. Often only a cloth curtain or partition run half way up separates this so-called colored car from the smoke, obscene language, and foul air of the smokers' half of the car. All classes and conditions of colored humanity, from the most cultured and refined to the most degraded and filthy, without regard to sex, good breeding or ability to pay for better accommodation, are crowded into this separate, but equal (?) half car. [Rev. Norman B. Wood, "The White Side of a Black Subject," 1897]