Louisiana Governor Posthumously Pardons Homer Plessy for “Separate But Equal” Decision

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Louisiana’s governor planned to pardon Homer Plessy posthumously Wednesday, more than a century after the black man was arrested in a failed attempt to overthrow a Jim Crow law that created “white-only” train cars.

The Plessy v. Ferguson case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ushered in half-century laws calling for “separate but equal” housing that kept blacks in segregated schools, homes, theaters and other venues.

Governor John Bel Edwards planned the pardon ceremony for a place near where Plessy was arrested in 1892 for breaking a law in Louisiana that required blacks to drive in cars that the law described as “straight but separate” from those for white customers. . The date is close to the 125th anniversary of Plessy’s guilty plea in New Orleans.

Relatives of both Plessy and the judge who convicted him were expected to attend.

It highlights New Orleans as the cradle of the civil rights movement, said Keith Plessy, whose great-great-grandfather was Plessy’s cousin – Homer Plessy had no children.

“Hopefully this will provide some relief to generations who have suffered under discriminatory laws,” said Phoebe Ferguson, the judge’s great-grandson.

The state pardon board recommended the pardon on Nov. 12 for Plessy, a 30-year-old shoemaker, as he boarded the train car as a member of a small civil rights group in hopes of overturning the law.

Instead, the 1896 ruling solidified areas that were only for whites in public housing until a later Supreme Court unanimously overturned it in the Brown v Board of Education in 1954. Both cases argued that segregation laws violated the 14th Amendment’s right to equal protection.

In Plessy, Judge Henry Billings Brown wrote for the 7-1 majority: “Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish differences based on physical differences.”

Judge John Harlan, the dissenter, wrote that he believed that the ruling “over time will prove to be as devastating as the decision of this court in the Dred Scott case.”

This 1857 resolution said that no black person who had been enslaved or descended from a slave could ever become a U.S. citizen. It was repealed by the 13th and 14th amendments, adopted in 1865 and 1866.

Plessy lacked the business, political, and educational achievements of most other members of the group who sought to break down the law of segregation, Keith Weldon Medley wrote in the book “We As Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson.” But his fair skin – court papers described him as someone whose “one-eighth of African blood” was “not noticeable” – positioned him for the train car protest.

“His one characteristic was being white enough to access the train and black enough to be arrested for doing so,” Medley wrote.

Five blocks from the street where he was arrested, renamed Homer Plessy Way in 2018, runs through the campus of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where the ceremony was to be held outdoors for COVID-19 security.

Eight months after the verdict in his case, Plessy pleaded guilty on January 11, 1897. He was fined $ 25 at a time when 25 cents would buy a pound of round steak and 10 pounds of potatoes. He died in 1925 with the conviction on his journal.

Relatives of Plessy and John Howard Ferguson, the judge who oversaw his case in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, became friends decades later and formed a nonprofit organization that advocates for civil rights education.


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