Civil rights

Baton Rouge leaders respond to forgiveness from civil rights pioneer Homer Plessy


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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (WAFB) – More than 100 years after his conviction, civil rights leader Homer Plessy was posthumously pardoned by Governor Edwards on Wednesday, January 5, 2022.

On June 7, 1892, Plessy was arrested for breaking the Separate Car Act when he purchased a first class ticket to Covington in a “white only” passenger car. A legal battle led to the Supreme Court of the United States, in what has become Plessy v. Ferguson.

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Plessy, the man whose arrest led to “separated but equal”, is pardoned

Forgiveness was made possible by Law Rev. Avery C. Alexander of 2006, which allows civil rights activists or their families to ask for pardons if they have struggled against injustices. In November 2021, the state pardons commission unanimously recommended pardon at the request of the Plessy and Ferguson families.

“This particular case cemented what we knew to be separate but equal in this country,” said Eugene Collins.

Eugene Collins, of the Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP, said the domino effect that followed completely changed American history.

“It’s actually considered one of the worst decisions ever made by the Supreme Court which sent us into this 50 year cycle where we saw separate but equal things become one thing not only with this rail call, but also on buses, schools, lunch counters and it started then, ”Collins said.

It may have happened over a century ago, but historians believe there is still a lot to be learned from Plessy and the historical moment.

“Our young people are now asking for more nuance and stuff about the story, and they can handle it,” said Dr Albert Samuels.

Dr Albert Samuels, chair of political science and history at Southern University, hopes this will lead to more open and honest conversations and how issues like race can still impact society.

“In many ways, although Plessy is no longer the law of the land, but in many ways he still represents the facts on the ground,” Samuels said.

Governor Edwards said the conviction should never have happened – but there is no expiration for justice.

While a lot of people agree, some wish it had happened a bit sooner.

“There are wins that happen, but in the same breath I’m tired of the ceremonial wins. It would have been a bigger deal if it could have happened so that he could still enjoy it, but at the same time, you can’t ignore the importance of it, ”Collins said.

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