Homer A. Plessy Day
On June 7, 2012, the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation and The Supreme Court of Louisiana Historical Society co-sponsored a program to honor Homer A. Plessy Day, which was established in 2005 and marks the anniversary of his 1892 arrest. The program was held at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and was kickstarted by Carl LeBlanc and the Big Easy Street Team Band. Attendees were welcomed by Keith Weldon Medley, author of We As Freemen – Plessy v. Ferguson – the Fight Against Legal Segregation. He then introduced the evening’s speaker, Dr. Blair L.M. Kelley, the author of Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson.
Dr. Kelley began by explaining her interest in the people who lived and suffered in the era of Jim Crow and whether or not the African Americans at the time accepted the status quo of segregation. She outlined her belief that the activists in the 1900’s were brave in the face of violent white supremacists and resisted the Jim Crow laws in several ways. The African American community at the time was divided by class and gender, but the activism of that time became an unacknowledged template for the activism of the Montgomery bus boycotts in the 1950’s. Dr. Kelley’s discussion was followed by readings from five students from Students at the Center. The students discussed different elements and outcomes of Homer Plessy’s influence with a modern day outlook.
Homer Plessy was a shoemaker and a member of the Citizens’ Committee, a group of Creole men who banded together to challenge the segregated rail system in New Orleans. Mr. Plessy was chosen to intentionally violate the Separate Car Act of Louisiana by sitting in the “whites only” section of a New Orleans streetcar. He was arrested on June 7, 1892 and was found guilty by Criminal District Court Judge John Howard Ferguson. The ensuing court battle was fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which upheld the Plessy v. Ferguson verdict, thus establishing the “separate but equal” doctrine. This decision enabled many states to enact Jim Crow laws that were not overturned until the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.
The Plessy and Ferguson Foundation was started by the descendants of the named figures in the “separate but equal” decision. Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson created the Foundation to educate the public about civil rights, to preserve historic sites in Louisiana, and to provide outreach projects to facilitate communication and knowledge about civil rights. Anyone interested in the Plessy v. Ferguson case should visit the location where Homer Plessy was arrested, at the corner of Press and Royal Streets. This is where the Press Street Railroad Yards stood and is marked by a plaque explaining the events surrounding the arrest. After visiting the historic site, please visit the Law Library at the Louisiana Supreme Court to read both Mr. Medley and Dr. Kelley’s thorough histories of the era.