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Homer Plessy, Who Protested Segregation, Is One Step Closer To A Posthumous Pardon

Carlie Porterfield
Updated Nov 12, 2021, 03:23pm EST

Topline

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has the opportunity to posthumously pardon Homer Plessy, the plaintiff in the landmark “separate but equal” 1896 Supreme Court Plessy V. Ferguson ruling who died with a conviction on his record for refusing to vacate his seat in a whites-only train car.

Key Facts

On Friday, the state pardons board voted unanimously to recommend pardoning Plessy, a mixed-race Creole man who was arrested in 1892 after he boarded a white section of a train as part of an organized effort to challenge a state law requiring railway companies to segregate train passengers.

Plessy’s case made it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896, when justices ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that the Louisiana law was constitutional because the law stipulated equal quality for the train cars.

Nearly 130 years later, Plessy’s descendants launched an effort to get his record cleared, aided with help of the New Orleans district attorney’s office that once prosecuted Plessy and even the relatives of the judge who convicted him, John H. Ferguson.

Clearing Plessy’s name will help him be remembered as more than just “the poster child of segregation,” Plessy’s relative Keith Plessy told The Guardian, adding the campaigners want to “[honor] him in the right way by recognizing that the law itself was a crime.”

Plessy’s record is now in the hands of the state’s Democratic governor, Bel Edwards, who must sign off on any pardons.

Surprising Fact

In 2009, descendants of both Plessy and Ferguson—Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson—teamed up to found the Plessy And Ferguson Foundation, a civil rights organization that focuses on education and historic preservation.

Key Background

After being convicted by a New Orleans court of breaking the separate car law, Plessy sued Ferguson and argued the judge violated 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The “separate but equal” concept in Plessy v. Ferguson paved the way for legal segregation to continue in the U.S. for more than five decades. Plessy v. Ferguson wasn’t overturned until 1954 with the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which decided that “separate but equal” is inherently unequal. Plessy pleaded guilty after the Supreme Court ruling, and was fined $25, according to the Associated Press. He died in 1925 at the age of 62, and many of his relatives still live in the New Orleans area. In 2018, the New Orleans City Council voted to rename the street where Plessy tried to board the “white” train car in his honor.

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