Governor to Pardon Plessy, of ‘Separate but Equal’ Ruling

January 5, 2022by Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press
Governor to Pardon Plessy, of ‘Separate but Equal’ Ruling
The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10, 2020. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/TNS)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana’s governor planned to posthumously pardon Homer Plessy on Wednesday, more than a century after the Black man was arrested in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow a Jim Crow law creating “whites-only” train cars.

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

Gov. John Bel Edwards scheduled the pardon ceremony for a spot near where Plessy was arrested in 1892 for breaking a Louisiana law requiring Black people to ride in cars that the law described as “equal 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 spotlights 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 give some relief to generations who have suffered under discriminatory laws,” said Phoebe Ferguson, the judge’s great-great-granddaughter.

The state Board of Pardons recommended the pardon on Nov. 12 for Plessy, who was a 30-year-old shoemaker when he boarded the train car as a member of a small civil rights group hoping to overturn the law.

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


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

Justice John Harlan, the dissenter, wrote that he believed the ruling “will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case.”

That 1857 decision said no Black person who had been enslaved or was descended from a slave could ever become a U.S. citizen. It was overturned by the 13th and 14th Amendments, passed in 1865 and 1866.

Plessy lacked the business, political and educational accomplishments of most other members of the group trying to strike down the segregation law, Keith Weldon Medley wrote in the book ”We As Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson.” But his light skin — court papers described him as someone whose “one eighth African blood” was “not discernable” — positioned him for the train car protest.

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

Five blocks of 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 safety.


Eight months after the ruling in his case, Plessy pleaded guilty on Jan. 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 record.

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 that advocates for civil rights education.

A+
a-

In The News

Health

Voting

Civil Rights

Abortion Ruling a Galvanizing Moment in American Life

WASHINGTON — From the president of the United States to ordinary citizens as far away as Hawaii and Guam, nearly... Read More

WASHINGTON — From the president of the United States to ordinary citizens as far away as Hawaii and Guam, nearly everyone, it seemed by Friday afternoon, was talking about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn two landmark precedents enshrining abortion as a constitutional right. Speaking... Read More

June 23, 2022
by Natalie McCormick
Events Around Washington Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Title IX

WASHINGTON — Fifty  years ago today, 37 words changed the game for women all around America. Thursday marks the 50th... Read More

WASHINGTON — Fifty  years ago today, 37 words changed the game for women all around America. Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which Richard Nixon signed into law on June 23, 1972.  The law states that “no person in the United States shall, on... Read More

June 23, 2022
by Reece Nations
Future of Title IX Becomes Clearer on Its Anniversary

WASHINGTON — As Title IX turns 50 this week, experts weigh in to discuss how its recent history could hint... Read More

WASHINGTON — As Title IX turns 50 this week, experts weigh in to discuss how its recent history could hint at what’s still to come for the landmark educational sexual discrimination law. When Title IX was being formulated in Congress, the lawmakers that conceived it couldn’t... Read More

June 23, 2022
by Dan McCue
Supreme Court Rules ‘Miranda’ Violation Not Grounds for Civil Rights Claim

WASHINGTON — For two generations, the words “you have the right to remain silent,” had been such a reliable part... Read More

WASHINGTON — For two generations, the words “you have the right to remain silent,” had been such a reliable part of American life — not to mention innumerable cop shows and movies — that they had almost become a cliche. It was the outcome of a... Read More

June 21, 2022
by Reece Nations
Title IX’s Lasting Legacy at 50: How Its History Defines the Present

WASHINGTON — Title IX of the Education Amendments, the comprehensive federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination by any federally funded education... Read More

WASHINGTON — Title IX of the Education Amendments, the comprehensive federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination by any federally funded education program or activity, first became law on June 23, 1972, and its impact on the public education system still persists today. The law came as a... Read More

June 17, 2022
by Dan McCue
Cert Petition Decisions on Tuesday Could Spell the True End of Bivens Precedent

WASHINGTON — The line originally comes from Ecclesiastes 3 in the King James version of The Bible, but is likely... Read More

WASHINGTON — The line originally comes from Ecclesiastes 3 in the King James version of The Bible, but is likely better known to generations of music fans due to the autumn 1965 hit “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds. “To every thing,” the good book and... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top