Homer Plessy’s Legacy

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Homer Plessey (March 17, 1862 – March 1, 1925)

Homer Plessy was an Octoroon, he was also a soldier in the war for African-American civil rights. That war began before the Civil War and before Homer Plessy challenged the segregation laws in Louisiana in 1892.

Plessy, like Rosa Parks, was chosen to challenge the segregation laws in public transportation. He boarded a train and sat in a car that was reserved for whites, then ordered to leave the train but refused. Policemen arrived and removed Plessy from the train and arrested him. His supporters believed that the “War Amendments” to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed his equal treatment.

May 17th is the anniversary of the landmark United States Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In that case the premise of “separate but equal” was successfully challenged, and overturned. The previous standard for race relations and the participation in society of blacks,  was the decision reached by the Supreme Court in 1896 in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The Court attempted to settle the various laws and societal treatment of blacks that varied from state to state and North to South. The “equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution created problems for white owned businesses and people determined to separate blacks from white society.

 

 

Before the Civil War, in the Dred Scott case (1857), the Court found that blacks were never intended to be part of the nation and the “founding fathers” didn’t consider people of African descent in forming the new nation, the United States. Therefore, Scott didn’t have the right (standing) to even bring his concerns to the Supreme Court (Chief Justice Roger B. Taney) or to any court for that matter.  Scott, was eventually freed and died not fully participating in American society. His fight was a major loss for many northerners and abolitionists, counter balancing Southern causes for the Civil War. That struggle continued.

colored-water-fountainThe Reconstruction Era, Jim Crow Laws, The Freedmen’s Bureau and other governmental and societal changes put in place following the Civil War along with the 13, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution had there intent distorted by Southerners and their advocates in the U. S. Congress, limiting the rights of blacks by successfully challenging the intent of the “war time” Amendments.  Plessy v. Ferguson was the definitive acknowledgement that Southern segregationists had won the argument limiting Blacks full participation in law and culture of American society. Reconstruction was designed to be a transformation of the American South. Congressional champions of liberty like the Radical Republicans, created a “road map” to assist the newly free. President Johnson, succeeded President Lincoln and moved to reverse or mitigate positive changes. For example, the Freedmen’s Bureau (officially The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands), charged with the health care, education, clothing and general welfare of blacks was terminated within only a few years. The Federal Act continuing the Freedmen’s Bureau was passed by Congress and vetoed by President Johnson.

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To make matters worse, vigilante groups like the Ku Klux Klan, worked to limit freedoms.  That’s when Homer Plessy discovered that he too was black. The apparent white complexion of Homer Plessy wasn’t enough to get him the treatment enjoyed by whites in public transportation. When federal troops withdrew from the South, ending Reconstruction, local accommodations and laws went into effect. Jim Crow Laws became the “law of the land”.

Homer Plessy (March 17, 1862 – March 1, 1925) was an “octoroon”, one-eighth black.  Octoroon, quadroon other terms were used for people of mixed raced ancestry, for the most part, people that were both of African and European descent. One-eighth, one-quarter black people and others were treated the same as blacks. Disenfranchisement, separate public accommodations, few property rights, segregated public schools, in every aspect of a persons life, there heritage and skin color determined their level of participation in daily life.

In 1954, Thurgood Marshall, Chief Counsel for the NAACP, represented the plaintiffs in the Brown case. The successful challenge to Plessy v. Ferguson was hard fought. Court cases leading up to the Supreme Court’s Plessy reversal are worth examining. The legal doctrine of “separate but equal” proved to be a facade. For nearly 60 years, segregationist pretended that unfair treatment of Blacks was indeed fair and legal.

Plessy’s Legacy lives on. The Plessy & Ferguson Foundation, was created by the descendants of Homer Plessy, according to their website, The Foundation, works to create new and innovative ways to teach the history of Civil Rights.

 

 

 

plessy

Blacks and Whites drank from separate water fountains.

U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Bd of Education of Topeka, ended school segregation

U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Bd of Education of Topeka, ended school segregation

 

 

 

scott-grave

Placing Lincoln pennies on the grave of Dred Scott is a tradition.

 

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3 Comments:

  1. Pingback: Zelma Henderson & the Board of Ed

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