Looking Black on Today, Homer A. Plessy refused to move to a segregated railroad coach in New Orleans. This brave and risky act initiated the now famous Plessy v. Ferguson case.
Plessy was recruited, in part due to his extremely fair skin, by the Citizens’ Committee of New Orleans to deliberately violate Louisiana’s 1890 separate-car law. On June 7, 1892, Plessy bought a first class ticket on a train from New Orleans and sat in the car for Whites passengers only.
Though this incident appeared to be another case of a Black individual taking their frustration with injustices into their own hands, this was actually a well orchestrated action. The Citizens’ Committee took the liberty of warning the train company of their desired plan, as well as hiring a private detective with arresting powers to apprehend Plessy. This was done to ensure that he would be charged specifically with violating the state’s separate-car law, and not some other misdemeanor. Everything went according to the committee’s plan, except for the Supreme Court’s 1896 ruling on the case.
Homer Plessy was arrested, tried, and convicted in New Orleans for violating Louisiana’s segregation laws. Plessy appealed all the way through the Louisiana state courts to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was no small feat for a Louisiana Creole Black plaintiff in the late 1800s, only to lose his case. This loss resulted in the notion of “separate but equal” institutions, and this ruling proved to be a detriment to civil rights in the United States. Under this ruling, state-mandated segregation was legalized anywhere in the United States, so long as the facilities provided for both Blacks and Whites in a seemingly “equal” manner.
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