It was a standing room only crowd to hear the descendants of the plaintiff and judge in Plessy v. Ferguson case speak at the Robert H. Jackson Center Tuesday as part of Constitution Day.
Plessy v. Ferguson was a landmark 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine. The case stemmed from an 1892 incident in which African American train passenger Homer Plessy refused to sit in a car for Black people. Rejecting Plessy’s argument that his constitutional rights were violated, the Supreme Court ruled that a law that “implies merely a legal distinction” between white people and Black people was not unconstitutional. As a result, restrictive Jim Crow legislation and separate public accommodations based on race became commonplace.
After the Supreme Court ruling, Plessy pleaded guilty and paid the fine as part of the case. He was posthumously pardoned by the Louisiana Governor on January 5, 2022.
Homer’s descendent, Keith Plessy, described what it was like to be at the pardoning ceremony, “I described to the audience that day that my feet, it felt like my feet were not touching the ground. Because I thought that my ancestors were actually with me, carrying me that day. From all the research that we’ve done in our time and to have the dream that we’ve already dreamt a long time ago, to have everybody come on board when I thought of coming together as opposed to being Plessy vs. Ferguson, we became Plessy and Ferguson. And we decided to be friends.”
Phoebe Ferguson said the mission of the foundation she and Plessy created is to honor the work of the citizen’s committee to take the case to the Supreme Court by teaching the history of the case and how it’s still relevant today, “If you’re following the news, you can understand with the attempt at re-instituting voter suppression laws, and over-incarceration, and even using.. overturning Roe (v. Wade).. using Plessy to overturn Roe brings us into, the case stays in the contemporary discussion about equality.”
The full audio of the discussion on Plessy versus Ferguson at the Robert H. Jackson Center will be available online here: