Homer Plessy pardon: Louisiana governor pardons Black man arrested in attempt to convince court to overturn Jim Crow law

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 to protest apartheid, who sparked a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that attached “separate but equal” laws to half a century.

The state’s pardoning commission in November recommended pardon for Plessy, who boarded the train as a member of a small civil rights group hoping to overturn a state law that separates trains. Instead, the protest led to an 1896 ruling known as Plessy v. Ferguson, which solidified whites-only spaces in public facilities such as transportation, hotels, and schools for decades. .

Governor John Bel Edwards held a pardon near the site near where Plessy was arrested.

The aim “is not to undo what happened 125 years ago, but to admit mistakes have been made,” said Phoebe Ferguson, great-grandson of the district judge who handed Plessy’s punishment. in the ceremony.

Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote in the January 7 decision: “The law is powerless to abolish racial instinct or to abolish segregation based on physical difference.”

Justice John Harlan was the sole dissenting voice, writing that he believes the verdict “will, in time, prove to be quite as dangerous as this court’s decision in the Dred Scott Case” – a decision determined in 1857 that there were no Negroes. was once enslaved or is a descendant of a slave who 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, whose great-grandfather was Plessy’s cousin, said donations collected by the committee 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 formed a non-profit that advocates civil rights education.

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 Avery Alexander Act of 2006, which allows pardons for those convicted under a law that has a discriminatory purpose.

Copyright © 2022 of the Associated Press. Copyright Registered. Homer Plessy pardon: Louisiana governor pardons Black man arrested in attempt to convince court to overturn Jim Crow law

Dais Johnston

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