Civil right activist Homer Plessy pardoned after 130 years

Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 5:01 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A crowd gathered on NOCCA’s campus Wednesday morning to commemorate one of the stains of Louisiana’s civil rights past.

“130 years ago, Homer Plessy bought a ticket, boarded a train right here where we sit,” Governor John Bel Edwards said.

Plessy was a civil rights activist who violated the Separate Car Act on June 7, 1892, when he bought a first-class ticket to Covington in a “whites-only” passenger car. A legal battle ensued between Plessy and Judge John Howard Ferguson, leading all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy vs. Ferguson. In the end, the New Orleans native lost, making way for more “separate but equal” laws nationwide.

FILE - This June 3, 2018 photo shows a marker on the burial site for Homer Plessy at St. Louis...
FILE - This June 3, 2018 photo shows a marker on the burial site for Homer Plessy at St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery in New Orleans. Homer Plessy, the namesake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1896 “separate but equal” ruling, is being considered for a posthumous pardon. The Creole man of color died with a conviction still on his record for refusing to leave a whites-only train car in New Orleans in 1892. (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz, File)(Beth J. Harpaz | AP)

“It is this unjust criminal conviction that has brought us here today,” Phoebe Ferguson, descendant of Judge Ferguson, said.

She was one of the many relatives of the late judge who attended the ceremony, along with descendants of Plessy, like Keith Plessy. Both family members have been instrumental in sharing their families’ mutual history through the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation.

The duo sat together with other community and state leaders to witness the civil rights activist getting a pardon more than 100 years after the fact.

“The Governor made a statement today with his signature,” Keith Plessy said. “We fought for recognition and for justice.”

The pardon is something the Foundation had worked for 11 years and now city leaders are happy to see history rewritten.

“The stance he took, the people, friends, and family that stood with him,” New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams said. “This is about justice in whatever form it takes.”

The pardon was made possible due to the Rev. Avery C. Alexander Act, which allows civil rights activists or their families to ask for pardons if they were fighting against injustices. State leaders hope to see more civil rights activists made into heroes through the legislation so that future generations can understand their significance.

“We cannot undo the wrongs of the past but we can and should acknowledge them and learn from them,” Phoebe Ferguson said.

The Foundation now hopes to secure a Presidential Medal of Freedom for Homer Plessy for his efforts in fighting against segregation and for civil rights.

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