Overlooked No More: Homer Plessy, Who Sat on a Train and Stood Up for Civil Rights

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2020-02-05 02:24Z by Steven

Overlooked No More: Homer Plessy, Who Sat on a Train and Stood Up for Civil Rights

The New York Times

Glenn Rifkin

A mural in New Orleans shows what Homer Plessy, right, might have looked like. On the left is P.B.S. Pinchback, the first black man to serve as a governor in the United States, in Louisiana. Pinchback is often mistaken for Plessy.
Mural by Ian Wilkinson; Photo by Jane Morse Rifkin

He boarded a whites-only train car in New Orleans with the hope of getting the attention of the Supreme Court. But it would be a long time before he got justice.

Since 1851, many remarkable black men and women did not receive obituaries in The New York Times. This month, with Overlooked, we’re adding their stories to our archives.

When Homer Plessy boarded the East Louisiana Railway’s No. 8 train in New Orleans on June 7, 1892, he knew his journey to Covington, La., would be brief.

He also knew it could have historic implications.

Plessy was a racially mixed shoemaker who had agreed to take part in an act of civil disobedience orchestrated by a New Orleans civil rights organization.

On that hot, sticky afternoon he walked into the Press Street Depot, purchased a first-class ticket and took a seat in the whites-only car…

Read the entire article here.

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Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation

Posted in Books, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2019-05-20 14:38Z by Steven

Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation

W. W. Norton
February 2019
624 pages
6.6 × 9.6 in
Hardcover ISBN 978-0-393-23937-9

Steve Luxenberg

A myth-shattering narrative of how a nation embraced “separation” and its pernicious consequences.

Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court case synonymous with “separate but equal,” created remarkably little stir when the justices announced their near-unanimous decision on May 18, 1896. Yet it is one of the most compelling and dramatic stories of the nineteenth century, whose outcome embraced and protected segregation, and whose reverberations are still felt into the twenty-first.

Separate spans a striking range of characters and landscapes, bound together by the defining issue of their time and ours—race and equality. Wending its way through a half-century of American history, the narrative begins at the dawn of the railroad age, in the North, home to the nation’s first separate railroad car, then moves briskly through slavery and the Civil War to Reconstruction and its aftermath, as separation took root in nearly every aspect of American life.

Award-winning author Steve Luxenberg draws from letters, diaries, and archival collections to tell the story of Plessy v. Ferguson through the eyes of the people caught up in the case. Separate depicts indelible figures such as the resisters from the mixed-race community of French New Orleans, led by Louis Martinet, a lawyer and crusading newspaper editor; Homer Plessy’s lawyer, Albion Tourgée, a best-selling author and the country’s best-known white advocate for civil rights; Justice Henry Billings Brown, from antislavery New England, whose majority ruling endorsed separation; and Justice John Harlan, the Southerner from a slaveholding family whose singular dissent cemented his reputation as a steadfast voice for justice.

Sweeping, swiftly paced, and richly detailed, Separate provides a fresh and urgently-needed exploration of our nation’s most devastating divide.

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Plessy v. Ferguson Re-Argument

Posted in Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States, Videos on 2015-12-30 22:41Z by Steven

Plessy v. Ferguson Re-Argument

C-SPAN: Created by Cable
Program ID: 71350-1

Hosted by Harvard University

Distinguished jurists heard a re-argument of Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court case in which the Court found that Louisiana did not discriminate against Homer A. Plessy when it refused to let him sit in the white only section of a passenger train. In this decision, the Court established the legal doctrine of “separate, but equal,” which governed discrimination cases until the 1954 decision of Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The participants had access only to the facts and case law available in 1896 for their arguments. Following the arguments, the “Court” deliberated in public and unanimously reversed its original 6-1 decision.

Watch the video (02:31:49) here.

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One thing we often forget about that case is that Homer Plessy’s argument was that he was white!

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2015-07-01 21:19Z by Steven

One thing we often forget about that case is that Homer Plessy’s argument was that he was white! He got bounced from the white section because the conductor said he was black. The question wasn’t that all train passengers should be able to sit together, rather Plessy said, “No, I’m a white person, actually.” The court admitted that it was very important to be able to determine who was white and who was not, and that having the ability to be white is a form of property, that it’s valuable, extremely valuable, in 1896.

Brian Jones, “The Social Construction of Race,” Jacobin, June 25, 2015. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/06/racecraft-racism-social-origins-reparations/.

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Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2015-06-07 19:00Z by Steven

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow
Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

Richard Wormser, Series producer, Co-writer

Jim Crow was not a person, yet affected the lives of millions of people. Named after a popular 19th-century minstrel song that stereotyped African Americans, “Jim Crow” came to personify the system of government-sanctioned racial oppression and segregation in the United States.

In June 7, 1892, 30-year-old Homer Plessy was jailed for sitting in the “White” car of the East Louisiana Railroad. Plessy could easily pass for white but under Louisiana law, he was considered black despite his light complexion and therefore required to sit in the “Colored” car. He was a Creole of Color, a term used to refer to black persons in New Orleans who traced some of their ancestors to the French, Spanish, and Caribbean settlers of Louisiana before it became part of the United States. When Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act, legally segregating common carriers in 1892, a black civil rights organization decided to challenge the law in the courts. Plessy deliberately sat in the white section and identified himself as black. He was arrested and the case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Plessy’s lawyer argued that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States heard the case and held the Louisiana segregation statute…

Read the entire article here.

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Plessy v. Ferguson: Race and Inequality in Jim Crow America

Posted in Books, History, Law, Louisiana, Monographs, United States on 2013-08-22 02:12Z by Steven

Plessy v. Ferguson: Race and Inequality in Jim Crow America

University Press of Kansas
April 2012
224 pages
5-1⁄2 x 8-1⁄2
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1846-0
Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-1847-7

Williamjames Hull Hoffer, Associate Professor of History
Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey

Six decades before Rosa Parks boarded her fateful bus, another traveler in the Deep South tried to strike a blow against racial discrimination—but ultimately fell short of that goal, leading to the Supreme Court’s landmark 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. Now Williamjames Hull Hoffer vividly details the origins, litigation, opinions, and aftermath of this notorious case.

In response to the passage of the Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1890, which prescribed “equal but separate accommodations” on public transportation, a group called the Committee of Citizens decided to challenge its constitutionality. At a pre-selected time and place, Homer Plessy, on behalf of the committee, boarded a train car set aside for whites, announced his non-white racial identity, and was immediately arrested. The legal deliberations that followed eventually led to the Court’s 7-1 decision in Plessy, which upheld both the Louisiana statute and the state’s police powers. It also helped create a Jim Crow system that would last deep into the twentieth century, until Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and other cases helped overturn it.

Hoffer’s readable study synthesizes past work on this landmark case, while also shedding new light on its proceedings and often-neglected historical contexts. From the streets of New Orleans’ Faubourg Tremé district to the justices’ chambers at the Supreme Court, he breathes new life into the opposing forces, dissecting their arguments to clarify one of the most important, controversial, and socially revealing cases in American law. He particularly focuses on Justice Henry Billings Brown’s ruling that the statute’s “equal, but separate” condition was a sufficient constitutional standard for equality, and on Justice John Marshall Harlan’s classic dissent, in which he stated, “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among its citizens.”

Hoffer’s compelling reconstruction illuminates the controversies and impact of Plessy v. Ferguson for a new generation of students and other interested readers. It also pays tribute to a group of little known heroes from the Deep South who failed to hold back the tide of racial segregation but nevertheless laid the groundwork for a less divided America.

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‘Plessy v. Ferguson’: Who Was Plessy?

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2013-06-10 21:54Z by Steven

‘Plessy v. Ferguson’: Who Was Plessy?

The Root

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor of History
Harvard University

100 Amazing Facts About the Negro: Learn about the man whose case led to decades of legal segregation.

Amazing Fact About the Negro No. 35: Who was the Plessy in the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case that established the separate-but-equal policy for separating the races?

‘How many mysteries have begun with the line, “A man gets on a train … “? In our man’s case, it happens to be true, and there is nothing mysterious about his plan. His name is Homer Plessy, a 30-year-old shoemaker in New Orleans, and on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 7, 1892, he executes it perfectly by walking up to the Press Street Depot, purchasing a first-class ticket on the 4:15 East Louisiana local and taking his seat on board. Nothing about Plessy stands out in the “whites only” car. Had he answered negatively, nothing might have.

Instead, as historian Keith Weldon Medley writes, when train conductor J.J. Dowling asks Plessy what all conductors have been trained to ask under Louisiana’s 2-year-old Separate Car Act—”Are you a colored man?”—Plessy answers, “Yes,” prompting Dowling to order him to the “colored car.” Plessy’s answer started off a chain of events that led the Supreme Court to read “separate but equal” into the Constitution in 1896, thus allowing racially segregated accommodations to become the law of the land.

Here’s what happens next on the train: If a few passengers fail to notice the dispute the first or second time Plessy refuses to move, no one can avoid the confrontation when the engineer abruptly halts the train so that Dowling can dart back to the depot and return with Detective Christopher Cain. When Plessy resists moving to the Jim Crow car once more, the detective has him removed, by force, and booked at the Fifth Precinct on Elysian Fields Avenue. The charge: “Viol. Sec. 2 Act 111, 1890” of the Louisiana Separate Car Act, which, after requiring “all railway companies [to] provide equal but separate accommodations for the white, and colored races” in Sec. 1, states that “any passenger insisting on going into a coach or compartment to which by race he does not belong, shall be liable to a fine of twenty-five dollars, or in lieu thereof to imprisonment for a period of not more than twenty days in the parish prison.”

It takes only 20 minutes for Homer Plessy to get bounced from his train, but another four years for him to receive a final decision from the United States Supreme Court. He is far from alone in the struggle. The 18-member citizens group to which Plessy belongs, the Comité des Citoyens of New Orleans (made up of “civil libertarians, ex-Union soldiers, Republicans, writers, a former Louisiana lieutenant governor, a French Quarter jeweler and other professionals,” according to Medley), has left little to chance.

In fact, every detail of Plessy’s arrest has been plotted in advance with input from one of the most famous white crusaders for black rights in the Jim Crow era: Civil War veteran, lawyer, Reconstruction judge and best-selling novelist Albion Winegar Tourgée, of late a columnist for the Chicago Inter-Ocean who will oversee Plessy’s case from his Mayville, N.Y., home, which Tourgée calls “Thorheim,” or “Fool’s House,” after his popular novel, A Fool’s Errand (1879). Even the East Louisiana Railroad, conductor Dowling and Detective Cain are in on the scheme.

Critically important to the legal team is Plessy’s color—that he has “seven eighths Caucasian and one eighth African blood,” as Supreme Court Justice Henry Billings Brown will write in his majority opinion, an observation that refers to the uniquely American “one drop rule” that a person with any African blood, no matter how little, is considered to be black. That Plessy’s particular “mixture of colored blood” means it is “not discernible” to the naked eye is not the only thing misunderstood about his case…

Read the entire article here.

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We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson

Posted in Books, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2012-02-26 21:35Z by Steven

We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson

Pelican Publishing Company
176 pages
5½ x 8½
20 photos – Notes – Index
ISBN: 1-58980-120-2
EAN: 978-1-58980-120-2 hc

Keith Weldon Medley

In June 1892, a thirty-year-old shoemaker named Homer Plessy bought a first-class railway ticket from his native New Orleans to Covington, north of Lake Pontchartrain. The two-hour trip had hardly begun when Plessy was arrested and removed from the train. Though Homer Plessy was born a free man of color and enjoyed relative equality while growing up in Reconstruction-era New Orleans, by 1890 he could no longer ride in the same carriage with white passengers. Plessy’s act of civil disobedience was designed to test the constitutionality of the Separate Car Act, one of the many Jim Crow laws that threatened the freedoms gained by blacks after the Civil War. This largely forgotten case mandated separate-but-equal treatment and established segregation as the law of the land. It would be fifty-eight years before this ruling was reversed by Brown v. Board of Education.

Keith Weldon Medley brings to life the players in this landmark trial, from the crusading black columnist Rodolphe Desdunes and the other members of the Comité des Citoyens to Albion W. Tourgee, the outspoken writer who represented Plessy, to John Ferguson, a reformist carpetbagger who nonetheless felt that he had to judge Plessy guilty.

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Mark Twain and Homer Plessy

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2012-01-15 03:13Z by Steven

Mark Twain and Homer Plessy

Number 24, Special Issue: America Reconstructed, 1840-1940 (Autumn, 1988)
pages 102-128

Eric J. Sundquist, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities
Johns Hopkins University

The carnivalesque drama of doubling, twinship, and masquerade that constitutes Pudd’nhead Wilson and its freakishly extracted yet intimately conjoined story, “Those Extraordinary Twins,” is likely to remain misread and controversial in estimations of Mark Twain’s literary achievement as long as the work’s virtual mimicry of America’s late-nineteenth-century race crisis is left out of account. Readers have, of course, often found a key to the novel’s interpretation in the notorious “fiction of law and custom” that makes the “white” slave Roxy legally “black” by allowing one-sixteenth of her blood to “outvote” the rest (8-9). Like so many parodic moments in the book, however. Twain’s joke about voting speaks not simply to general anxieties about miscegenation but more particularly to the deliberate campaign to disfranchise blacks and strip them of legal protections that was underway by the early 1890s. Built of the brutal artifice of racial distinctions, both American law and American custom conspired to punish black men and women in the post-Reconstruction years, and Twain’s bitter failed fiction, verging on allegory but trapped in unfinished burlesque, has been thought to participate in the black nadir without artistically transcending it or, conversely, without reaching its broader historical implications.

As Hershel Parker and others have demonstrated in detail, Twain’s chaotic process of composition and his unconcerned interchange of various manuscript versions make it impossible to place much weight on authorial intention narrowly defined. Yet this hardly leads to the conclusion that Twain’s vision had no coherent meaning or that his own comic rationale, contained in the opening of “Those Extraordinary Twins,” reveals nothing of significance about the texts critique of contemporary race theory or Twain’s authorial involvement in that critique. Indeed, one might rather argue that the confusion and seeming flaws in the manuscript and the published text, while largely attributable to his haste to produce a book that would ameliorate his financial problems, are also a measure of the social and psychic turmoil that Twain, not least as a liberal Southerner living and working in the North, felt in the post-Reconstruction years. The key phenomena in late-nineteenth-century race relations have just as much place in determining the text’s range of implication, its meaning, as do such mechanical factors as compositional sequence and manuscript emendations. Preoccupied with relevant but improperly construed issues of aesthetic unity and verisimilitude, critics have typically missed the primary ways in which Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894) and its attached tale of the Italian Siamese twins involves itself in the…

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In search of the power of whiteness: A genealogical exploration of negotiated racial identities in America’s ethnic past

Posted in Articles, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Louisiana, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2011-08-24 23:54Z by Steven

In search of the power of whiteness: A genealogical exploration of negotiated racial identities in America’s ethnic past

Communication Quarterly
Volume 50, Issue 3-4 (2002)
pages 391-409
DOI: 10.1080/01463370209385674

Roberto Avant‐Mier, Associate Professor of Communication
University of Texas, El Paso

Marouf Hasian Jr., Professor of Communation
University of Utah

In this essay, the authors explore some of the relational, intersectional, and contextual dimensions of negotiated racial identities. By employing a genealogical method of analysis that looks at three key cases (Anastasie Desarzant, Homer Plessy, and Suzie Phipps), they investigate how various historically‐situated communities in Louisiana have dealt with some of the contradictions, multiplicities and tensions of racial and ethnic identity formation. They then apply these insights in an analysis of issues relating to colorblindness versus color consciousness and commentaries on contemporary examples of how negotiated identities might affect various present‐day publics, debates, and politics.

Americans have always had ambivalent feelings regarding the question of what to do about the nation’s racial identities, and this was especially true when citizens had to deal with the ambiguities of the Enlightenment ideals. During the time of the Founders, civic leaders talked about the importance of the notion that “all men [sic] are created equal,” but when these ideals were put into practice, they had to compete with the economic and social hierarchies that were considered to be mirrors of natural inequalities. Given these normative expectations, it should come as no surprise that in 1790, the first Congress voted that a person must be “white” in order to be a citizen (Nakayama & Krizek, 1995; Omi & Winant, 1994; Roediger, 1994). Since that time, the very notion of what it means to have either a “racial” or an “ethnic” identity has gotten even more complicated, as layers of legal, political, and cultural meanings have pulled us in the competing directions of defending either color con-…

Read or purchase the article here.

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