On Friday, the Louisiana Board of Pardons voted to clear the record of Homer Plessy, a Black man who defied a segregationist state law in the 1890s that resulted in the “separate but equal” Supreme Court ruling.
In June 1892, Plessy was elected to the Board of Trustees. a Louisiana civil rights group called the Citizens’ CommitteeDuring a trip from New Orleans, Louisiana to Covington (La), he sat in a train car that was only for whites. Despite having purchased a first-class ticket Plessy was told to remove himself from the car. He refused to comply and was dragged off the train. He was charged with violating the Louisiana Separate Car Act, and fined $25.
When Judge John Howard Ferguson ruled the segregationist law was constitutionalPlessy appealed to the Supreme Court. In the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson, the court affirmed the judge’s decision.That ruling established the doctrine of “separate but equal,” which allowed de jure segregation to remain in place up until the 1950s, when it was deemed an errant ruling by the Court in Brown v. Board of Education.
1925 saw the death of Plessy. Despite the in Brown seven decades ago, The 1892 train car incident remains part of his criminal record.
On Friday, the state’s pardons board voted to clear Plessy’s record, citing a little-known (and never usedThe Avery C. Alexander Act is a law. This law was passed in 2006 and allows for the pardoning individuals who were convicted in violation of laws that were meant to enforce discrimination and segregation in the state.
“It almost makes you think it was designed for just this moment, for Homer Plessy,” said Jason Williams, The Orleans Parish District Attorney.
Democratic Gov. now has final authority to make the pardons board decision. John Bel Edwards’s desk for final approval. A spokesperson for Edwards said the governor “looks forward to receiving and reviewing the recommendation of the board.”
The pardon request was made after years of work from the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation, an organization headed by Keith Plessy, Phoebe Ferguson, the descendants of Homer Plessy, and John Ferguson, who seek to reverse the ruling they claim was unjustified and unconstitutional.
The impending pardon of Plessy’s is significant but it is also symbolic. It must be followed with moves to address systemic and persistent racism in today’s justice system.
“Not that this symbolic gesture from a conviction 128 years ago isn’t important, but we hope the Louisiana Board of Pardons/Committee on Parole is as interested in helping people who are incarcerated in 2021 for the same reasons as Mr. Plessy — unfair prosecutions and unfair laws,” read a tweet from Baton Rouge-based Trichell Law FirmWhich? dedicates a quarter of its work toward pro bono civil rights cases.
In Article TruthoutOctoberAdam Kotsko, a religious scholar, noted that symbolic actions don’t address the actual consequences of racism but mainly serve to make white people feel better.
“The notion of racism as ‘America’s original sin’ underwrites a cycle of performative guilt and ritual repentance among white liberals, as a substitute for any concrete action,” Kotsko.
The action to undo Plessy’s conviction also comes as dozens of state legislatures across the country — including in Louisiana — are considering (or have already passed) bills intended to ban lessons about racism in K-12 classroom settings. The proposed bills are in some states. could forbid teachers from discussing the Supreme Court case that bears Plessy’s name.