Homer Plessy of infamous ‘separate but equal’ top court case pardoned in Louisiana

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Homer Plessy of infamous 'separate but equal' top court case pardoned in Louisiana

The governor of Louisiana issued a posthumous pardon Wednesday to Homer Plessy, who lent his name to one of the most infamous decisions in Supreme Court history. 

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the pardon during a ceremony outside the former train station where the mixed-race Plessy was arrested in 1892 after he refused to leave a “whites-only” passenger car. 

“Mr. Plessy’s conviction should never have happened,” Edwards said in a statement. “But, there is no expiration on justice. No matter is ever settled until it is settled right. It is with great joy that today I pardon Homer Plessy and settle this matter. We still have a long way to go when it comes to equality and justice, but this pardon is certainly a step in the right direction.”

Present at the ceremony were descendants of Plessy and John Howard Ferguson, the Louisiana judge who convicted Plessy of violating racial segregation laws and ordered him to pay a $25 fine (more than $800 in today’s money). Descendants of the two men became close in later years and advocated for Plessy’s pardon, which was unanimously approved in November by the state Board of Pardons. 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signs the posthumous pardon on Jan. 5 in New Orleans surrounded by Plessy's surviving descendants.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the posthumous pardon on Jan. 5 in New Orleans.
AP
Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards holds the signed pardon for Homer Plessy.
“Mr. Plessy’s conviction should never have happened,” Edwards said in a statement.
REUTERS

Plessy’s conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court in the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson. The justices found by a vote of 7-1 that so-called “Jim Crow” laws segregating public accommodations like transportation, hotels and schools did not violate the Constitution as long as the facilities provided were of equal quality for both races.

The lone dissenting justice, John Marshall Harlan, warned his colleagues that the Plessy ruling “will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case,” referring to the 1857 decision that found no black person could become a US citizen and consequently the rights and privileges enshrined in the Constitution did not apply to them.

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

Keith Plessy, a descendant of Homer Plessy, and his wife Marietta Plessy walk at the historic train stop after the pardon was signed.
Keith Plessy, a descendant of Homer Plessy, and his wife, Marietta Plessy, walk at the historic train stop after the pardon was signed.
REUTERS
Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, a descendent of the judge in the case, pictured together in 2011.
Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, a descendant of the judge in the case, pictured together in 2011.
AP

The “separate but equal” precedent was overturned in 1954 with the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.

Keith Plessy, the great-great-grandson of Plessy’s cousin, called Wednesday’s ceremony “truly a blessed day for our ancestors … and for children not yet born.”

Phoebe Ferguson, the great-great-granddaughter of the judge, said the purpose of the pardon “is not to erase what happened 125 years ago but to acknowledge the wrong that was done.”

With Post wires

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