State Watch

Louisiana board votes to send pardon for Homer Plessy, man at center of ‘separate by equal’ decision, to governor

Beth J. Harpaz / Associated Press

Homer Plessy, a Creole man whose arrest for boarding a whites-only train car became the basis for the Supreme Court’s infamous 1896 “separate but equal” ruling, may have his conviction cleared after a Louisiana board voted to pardon him on Friday.

The Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole voted unanimously on Friday to pardon Plessy, the Associated Press reported.

Plessy was arrested in 1892 for challenging a racist state law, called the Separate Car Act, which required segregated seating among train passengers. He was subsequently fined $25 after pleading guilty to violating the law. That charge remained on his record even after he died, the AP.

A decision in 1896 by the Supreme Court in the resulting case, Plessy v. Ferguson, said that as long as racial groups each had access to facilities of equal quality, they could remain segregated; that, in other words, “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional. That decision stood until 1954, when it was overturned by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling striking down segregation in schools.

The Louisiana Parole Board’s vote now heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), who will make a final decision on the pardon. 

“I’m extremely proud to carry the surname of Plessy. Long before civil rights activism became a term, Homer Plessy and the citizens committees’ philosophy and strategies inspired the civil rights movement of the 20th century,” Keith Plessy, a descendant of the civil rights icon, said during the pardon hearing on Friday.

Keith and Phoebe Ferguson, a descendent of the man on the other side of the Supreme Court case, formed an organization aimed at better educating people about the Plessy v. Ferguson decision and its impact on the Black community. 

“We are so proud that this application was a joint endeavor between the descendants of both sides of the Plessy v. Ferguson case, and we come together in the true spirit of reconciliation and healing,” Ferguson said on Friday. 

The Hill has reached out to the Louisiana governor’s office for comment.

Tags Brown v. Board of Education Homer Plessy John Bel Edwards Louisiana Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court

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