Gov. John Bel Edwards recently signed a posthumous pardon of Homer A. Plessy, who was convicted of violating Louisiana’s Separate Car Act of 1890.
The purpose of the 1890 law was to ensure racial segregation.
Edwards was joined on Jan. 5 by descendants of Homer A. Plessy, Justice John Harlan, and Judge John Ferguson, as well as by Southern University Professor of Law Angela Bell, Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams, civil rights leaders and a number of state and local elected officials.
“The first six decades of the 21st century should have been filled with infinitely more promise and progress in race relations, and they would have been had slavery and segregation given way to equality and freedom as a plain reading of the 13th and 14th Amendments required,” said Edwards. “Instead, the 1896 Plessy decision ordained segregation for the explicit purpose of declaring and perpetuating white supremacy, as immoral and factually erroneous as that was — and is.
“The fictitious notion of ‘separate but equal’ remained with us until the United States Supreme Court revisited the issue in 1954 in the context of public education and implicitly overruled Plessy. Mr. Plessy’s conviction should never have happened. But, there is no expiration on justice. No matter is ever settled until it is settled right. It is with great joy that today I pardon Homer Plessy and settle this matter.”
On June 7, 1892 in New Orleans, Plessy purchased a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railroad Company train bound for Covington when he was asked by the conductor to leave and sit in the “colored car” as required by the 1890 Separate Car Act. When he refused, he was arrested. The constitutionality of his arrest was challenged by Louis A. Martinet, Albion Tourgee, and others in the Comité des Citoyens (Citizen’s Committee) to test Louisiana’s recently-enacted racial segregation laws. The U.S.Supreme Court heard Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 and held that the Constitution permitted legally-enforced segregation on the basis of race. That allowed for the enactment of a slew of laws by southern states that created the Jim Crow regime.
Plessy died in 1925. In recognition of the upcoming 125th anniversary of Plessy’s conviction by guilty plea in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, an application was submitted to the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Governor John Bel Edwards for Plessy to receive a full gubernatorial pardon. It was submitted by Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams, the same office that sought Plessy’s conviction.