One hundred and thirty years after he was ejected from a train in Louisiana and 97 years after his death, Homer Plessy was finally pardoned for exercising his constitutional rights that led to the historic Plessy v. Ferguson decision and the legalization of Jim Crow segregation.
With the pardoning of Plessy by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards last Wednesday comes another example of how slow the wheels of justice turn in America. “While this pardon had been a long time coming, we can all acknowledge this is a day that should have never had to happen,” the governor told the press. “The subsequent Supreme Court case led to generations of inequity, has left a stain on the fabric of our country and on the state and on the city. And quite frankly those consequences are still felt today.”
Plessy, a civil rights activist and a member of an organization determined to reinstate rights after they had been abrogated at the close of Reconstruction, deliberately purchased a first-class ticket in an all-white coach on the train. Like Rosa Parks, he knew if he was detected he would be removed from the train, and that occurred and the incident went all the way to the Supreme Court that ruled 7 to 1 in favor of the segregation laws of the state. (See our Classroom pages for further elaboration.)
At the ceremony in New Orleans, not too far from where Plessy was removed from the train and arrested, Plessy and Ferguson’s descendants were in attendance during the pardoning. It should be noted that Judge John Howard Ferguson is the other name attached to the landmark case.
In fact, some of the descendants—Keith Plessy, whose great-great-grandfather was Plessy’s cousin, and Phoebe Ferguson, the great-great-granddaughter of Judge Ferguson—were at the event and have forged a partnership in a non-profit foundation that advocates civil rights education.
Ms. Ferguson said the pardon “is not to erase what happened 125 years ago but to acknowledge the wrong that was done.”