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Governor Edwards pardons Homer Plessy, of 'separate but equal' ruling

2 years 1 month 3 weeks ago Thursday, January 06 2022 Jan 6, 2022 January 06, 2022 7:54 AM January 06, 2022 in News
Source: BBC News

NEW ORLEANS - An act of injustice that occurred 130 years ago has been addressed.

Governor John Bel Edwards on Wednesday officially pardoned Homer Plessy, a 19th century French-speaking Creole person of color whose arrest led to one of the most criticized Supreme Court decisions in US history.

Plessy, a 30-year-old shoemaker and determined civil rights activist, engaged in a civil disobedience initiative against Louisiana's segregation laws by trying to travel in a whites-only passenger car.

It was 1892 when he purchased a first-class ticket for the East Louisiana Railroad in New Orleans and was shortly thereafter arrested for refusing to leave the whites-only train car.

Interestingly, Plessy was one-eighth African-American and appeared white, so he was arrested only after he voluntarily spoke up and identified himself as a person of color.

In 1896, the top US court ruled against Plessy, which paved the way for dangerous Jim Crow segregation laws in the South.

Plessy died in 1925 with the conviction still on his record.

Wednesday's posthumous pardoning of the civil rights icon was held outside the former New Orleans train station where he was arrested.

Those in attendance included Governor Edwards, as well as Plessy's descendants and those of John Howard Ferguson, the Louisiana judge who found Plessy guilty of violating the state's Separate Car Act of 1890.

"The 1896 Plessy decision ordained segregation for the explicit purpose of declaring and perpetuating white supremacy, as immoral and factually erroneous as that was - and is," said Gov Edwards.

"Mr. Plessy's conviction should never have happened," he continued. "But, there is no expiration on justice. No matter is ever settled until it is settled right."

Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams fought for the posthumous pardon.

"While Homer Plessy's actions made him guilty of a crime under law, it was the law that was the real crime," Williams said.

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

Keith Plessy, whose great-great-grandfather was Plessy’s cousin, told the Times-Picayune newspaper at the ceremony: "I feel like my feet are not touching the ground today, because the ancestors are carrying me."

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