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Homer Plessy, Man Behind ‘Separate But Equal’ Ruling, Pardoned By Governor

Louisiana’s governor has posthumously pardoned Homer Plessy, the Black man who was arrested for refusing to leave a whites-only railroad car in 1892 which led to the Supreme Court “separate but equal” ruling.

The Louisiana Board of Pardons recommended the pardon for Plessy, who boarded the train as a member of Citizens Committee, a civil rights group hoping to overturn segregation laws. Instead, the protest culminated in the 1896 ruling known as Plessy v. Ferguson, which established whites-only spaces in public accommodations such as transportation, hotels and schools for over half a century.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said he was “beyond grateful” to help restore Plessy’s “legacy of the rightness of his cause … undefiled by the wrongness of his conviction.”

Keith Plessy, a distant relative of Homer, said the pardon was “truly a blessed day for our ancestors … and for children not yet born.” Since the pardon board vote was announced, Plessy said that he has “had the feeling that my feet are not touching the ground because my ancestors are carrying me.”

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According to Phoebe Ferguson, the great-great-granddaughter of the judge in the 1896 ruling, the purpose of the pardon “is not to erase what happened 125 years ago but to acknowledge the wrong that was done.” Other recent efforts have acknowledged Plessy’s role in history, including a vote by the New Orleans City Council to rename a section of the street where he tried to board the train in his honor.

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