A Historical Wrong Is Righted in Louisiana

Homer Plessy, who wouldn't leave whites-only train car in 1892, is pardoned
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 12, 2021 11:20 AM CST
Updated Jan 5, 2022 1:50 PM CST
Man Who Wouldn't Leave Train Car in 1892 Is Up for a Pardon
This June 3, 2018, photo shows a marker on the burial site for Homer Plessy at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans.   (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz, File)

Update: Homer Plessy has been pardoned almost 130 years after he was arrested for violating a racist law in Louisiana. Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the formal pardon near the site where the Black man bought a ticket for a whites-only train car in 1892, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. Plessy's case led to a notorious 7-1 Supreme Court decision that allowed state segregation laws to stand for decades. The conviction was still on his record when he died in 1925. Keith Plessy, whose great-great-grandfather was Plessy's cousin, called the occasion "truly a blessed day for our ancestors … and for children not yet born," per the AP. Edwards said he was "beyond grateful" for the opportunity to right the historical wrong. Our story from Nov. 12 follows:

A Louisiana board on Friday posthumously pardoned Homer Plessy, the namesake of the US Supreme Court’s 1896 "separate but equal" ruling affirming state segregation laws. The state Board of Pardons' unanimous decision to clear the Creole man's record of a conviction for refusing to leave a whites-only train car in New Orleans now goes to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who has final say over the pardon, reports the AP.

Plessy was arrested in 1892 after boarding the train car as part of a civil rights group's efforts to challenge a state law that mandated segregated seating. The Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that state racial segregation laws didn't violate the Constitution as long as the facilities for the races were of equal quality. Plessy pleaded guilty to violating the Separate Car Act a year later and was fined $25. He died in 1925 with the conviction still on his record.

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Descendants 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. Other recent efforts have acknowledged Plessy's role in history, including a 2018 vote by the New Orleans City Council to, in his honor, rename a section of the street where he tried to board the train.

(More civil disobedience stories.)

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