NEW ORLEANS – The governor of Louisiana on Wednesday pardoned Homer Plessy, the Black man arrested for refusing to leave a white-only railroad car in 1892, leading to a Supreme Court ruling The US attaches “separate but equal” to US law. century.
The state’s pardons commission in November recommended pardoning Plessy, who boarded the train as a member of a small civil rights group in the hope of overturning a state law that segregated trains. Protests instead led to an 1896 ruling known as Plessy v. Ferguson, which strengthened whites-only spaces in public facilities such as transportation, hotels, and schools for many decade.
At a ceremony held near the site near Plessy’s arrest, Governor John Bel Edwards said he was “extremely grateful” for helping restore the “legacy of righteousness that he has not obscured”. by the error of his convictions.”
Keith Plessy, whose great-grandfather was Plessy’s cousin, called the event “a truly blessed day for our ancestors and for the unborn children.”
Since the amnesty board voted, “I feel like my feet don’t touch the ground because my ancestors are carrying me,” he said.
Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote in the January 7 decision: “The law is powerless to abolish racial instinct or to abolish segregation on the basis of physical difference.”
Justice John Harlan was the sole dissenting voice, writing that he believes the ruling “will, in time, prove to be quite as dangerous as this court decision in the Dred Scott Case” – a decision in 1857 stating that there were no blacks. A person who has been enslaved or is a descendant of a slave can become a citizen of the United States.
The Plessy v. Ferguson ruling that allowed racism in American life to be considered the law of the country until the Supreme Court unanimously passed it in 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education. In both cases, the segregation law violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection right.
Brown’s decision led to widespread discrimination in public schools and ultimately to the repeal of Jim Crow laws that discriminated against black Americans.
Plessy was a member of the Citizens Committee, a group in New Orleans that was trying to pass legislation that impeded post-Civil War advances in equality.
Keith Weldon Medley wrote in his book “We As Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson.” But his light skin – court papers describing him as “one-eighth of African blood” as “impossible to be lucid” – positioned him for the carriage protest. .
“One attribute of him is that he is white enough to enter a ship and black enough to be arrested for doing so,” Medley writes.
Eight months after the verdict in his case, Plessy pleaded guilty and was fined $25 at a time when 25 cents would buy a pound of steak and 10 pounds of potatoes. He died in 1925 with the convictions on his record.
Keith Plessy said donations collected by the commission paid for fines and other legal costs. But Plessy returned to obscurity, and never returned to shoemaking.
He alternated working as a worker, warehouse worker and salesman before becoming a cashier for the black-owned People’s Life Insurance Company, Medley wrote. He died in 1925 with the convictions on his record.
Relatives of Plessy and John Howard Ferguson, the judge overseeing his case at the Parish Parish Criminal District Court, became friends decades later and founded a non-profit that advocates civil rights education.
The purpose of the pardon “is not to undo what happened 125 years ago but to acknowledge wrongs have been done,” said Phoebe Ferguson, the judge’s great-granddaughter.
Other recent efforts have acknowledged Plessy’s role in history, including a 2018 vote by the New Orleans City Council to rename a stretch of street where he attempted to board the train in his honor.
The governor’s office described it as the first pardon under Louisiana’s 2006 Avery Alexander Act, which allows pardons for those convicted under a law that has a discriminatory purpose.
Former State Senator Edwin Murray said he originally wrote the bill to automatically pardon anyone found guilty of violating a law that was written to codify discrimination. He said he offered the option after people arrested for civil rights protests told him they considered the arrest a badge of honor.