Plessy and Ferguson unveil plaque today marking their ancestors’ actions

Plessy and Ferguson unveil plaque today marking their ancestors’ actions

New Orleans Times-Picayune

Katy Reckdahl

Today, Plessy versus Ferguson becomes Plessy and Ferguson, when descendants of opposing parties in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court segregation case stand together to unveil a plaque at the former site of the Press Street Railroad Yards.

Standing behind Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson will be a large group of students, scholars, officials and activists who worked for years to honor the site where in 1892, Tremé shoemaker Homer Plessy, a light-skinned black man, was arrested for sitting in a railway car reserved for white people.

People often think that his ancestor held some responsibility for the legalized segregation known as “separate but equal, ” said Keith Plessy, 52, a longtime New Orleans hotel bellman whose great-grandfather was Homer Plessy’s first cousin. In actuality, Homer Plessy boarded that train as part of a carefully orchestrated effort to create a civil-rights test case, to fight the proliferation of segregationist laws in the South…

…Plessy, born in 1863 on St. Patrick’s Day, grew up at a time when black people in New Orleans could marry whomever they chose, sit in any streetcar seat, and attend integrated schools, Medley said. But as an adult, those gains from the Reconstruction era eroded.
On any other day in 1892, Plessy could have ridden in the car restricted to white passengers without notice. According to the parlance of the time, he was classified “7/8 white.”
In order to pose a clear test to the state’s 1890 separate-car law, the Citizens’ Committee in advance notified the railroad—which had opposed the law because it required adding more cars to its trains.
On June 7, 1892, Plessy bought a first-class ticket for the commuter train that ran to Covington, sat down in the car for white riders only and the conductor asked whether he was a colored man, Medley said. The committee also hired a private detective with arrest powers to take Plessy off the train at Press and Royal streets, to ensure that he was charged with violating the state’s separate-car law.
Everything the committee plotted went as planned—except for the final court decision, in 1896. By then the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court had gained a more segregationist tilt, and the committee knew it would likely lose. But it chose to press the cause anyway, Medley said. “It was a matter of honor for them, that they fight this to the very end.”…

…”You don’t know American history until you know Louisiana history, ” Plessy said…

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