One hundred and thirty years after being kicked off a train in Louisiana and 97 years after his death, Homer Plessy was finally pardoned for exercising his constitutional rights which led to the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson and the legalization of Jim Crow segregation.
With the pardon of Plessy by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards last Wednesday comes another example of how slowly the wheels of justice in America are turning. “Although this forgiveness has been a long time coming, we can all agree that it is a day that should never have happened,” the governor told reporters. “The ensuing Supreme Court case led to generations of iniquity, left a stain on the fabric of our country, on the state and on the city. And frankly, those consequences are still being felt today.
Plessy, a civil rights activist and member of an organization determined to restore rights after they were abrogated at the end of Reconstruction, purposely bought a first-class ticket on an all-white coach on the train. Like Rosa Parks, he knew that if detected he would be taken off the train, and that happened and the incident went all the way to the Supreme Court which ruled 7 to 1 in favor of the segregation laws of the state. (See our Classroom pages for more details.)
At the ceremony in New Orleans, not far from where Plessy was taken from the train and arrested, the descendants of Plessy and Ferguson were present during the pardon. It should be noted that Judge John Howard Ferguson is the other name attached to the historic 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 in attendance at the event and have formed a partnership in a non-profit foundation. which advocates civic rights education.
Ms Ferguson said forgiveness “is not to erase what happened 125 years ago, but to recognize the harm that was done”.