Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has posthumously pardoned Homer Plessy more than 100 years after the Black shoemaker and activist was arrested in 1892 for refusing to leave a whites-only train car, defying Jim Crow segregation.
Plessy was found guilty of violating the state’s Separate Car Act of 1890, which made it legal to segregate Black passengers on trains.
Judge John Ferguson ruled against Plessy and fined him $25.
His conviction caught the attention of activists, and in 1892, the Comite des Citoyens (Committee of Citizens), a group of New Orleans residents who sought to repeal the law, solicited Plessy to challenge it. The challenge led to the landmark 1896 U.S. Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, which sanctioned the controversial “separate but equal” doctrine for assessing the constitutionality of racial segregation laws.
In November 2021, the Louisiana Board of Pardons approved a pardon application for Plessy, who died in 1925 with the conviction still on his record. Gov. Edwards issued the pardon on Dec. 5, 2021.
“The stroke of my pen on this pardon, while momentous, it doesn’t erase generations of pain and discrimination. It doesn’t eradicate all the wrongs wrought by the Plessy court [case] or fix all of our present challenges,” Edwards, a Democrat, said at a news conference in New Orleans. “We can all acknowledge we have a long ways to go. But, this pardon is a step in the right direction.”
Keith Plessy, a distant relative of Plessy, told the Times-Picayune newspaper at the ceremony, “I feel like my feet are not touching the ground today because the ancestors are carrying me.”
The pardoning ceremony was held outside the former train station where Plessy was arrested.
Twitter users said more justice must be done beyond symbolic gestures for people who have been incarcerated falsely or due to unfair laws.
Civil Rights attorney Chase Trichell of the Trichell Law Firm retweeted a statement he made in November after the Louisiana Board of Pardons’ decision. He said, “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.”
“Y’all love patting yourselves on the back for stuff like this because it’s EASY. Homer Plessy is dead. He can’t demand anything more of Louisiana. That makes him easy for you to support, unlike the Black people (including felons) that deserve your attention today,” tweeted Skylar Ezell is a Black, Broke, and Bougie Writer @Skylar_Writer.
“That lil part that people like to ignore Doing it now is just empty symbolism,” tweeted P. Against The World (@chillin662)
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The Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson stood for 58 years until the landmark 1954 Brown v Board of Education case helped begin to dismantle racial segregation laws.
Photo: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signs a posthumous pardon on Jan. 5, 2022, in New Orleans, for civil disobedience pioneer Homer Plessy. (AP Photo/Janet McConnaughey)