February 12, 2009

"Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson stand on the railroad tracks at the corner of Royal and Press Streets..."

"... where in June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy was arrested after boarding a train designated for whites only."
On any other day in 1892, Plessy could have ridden in the car restricted to white passengers without notice. According to the parlance of the time, he was classified "7/8 white."

In order to pose a clear test to the state's 1890 separate-car law, the Citizens' Committee in advance notified the railroad — which had opposed the law because it required adding more cars to its trains.

On June 7, 1892, Plessy bought a first-class ticket for the commuter train that ran to Covington, sat down in the car for white riders only and the conductor asked whether he was a colored man.... The committee also hired a private detective with arrest powers to take Plessy off the train at Press and Royal streets, to ensure that he was charged with violating the state's separate-car law.

Everything the committee plotted went as planned — except for the final court decision, in 1896. By then the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court had gained a more segregationist tilt, and the committee knew it would likely lose. But it chose to press the cause anyway.... "It was a matter of honor for them, that they fight this to the very end."
(Thanks to our regular commenter Beth for emailing me that link.)

13 comments:

Bender said...

The Party of Slavery, Secession, Segregation, and now, Socialism, strikes again!

MadisonMan said...

I wonder how the trajector of the Country would have been different had Plessy v. Ferguson had been decided differently.

Mark O said...

In the opinion itself, Plessy is an “octoroon.” Curiously, in today’s America some minorities prefer separate but equal, not as a matter of law, but as a matter of choice. Assimilation is a huge issue.

Dudley Do-right said...

I see no value in continually dredging this stuff up and rehashing it.

Injustices occurred, yes. I imagine on that same day in history many other injustices occurred as well. We don't hear of them. Were those other injustices somehow inferior to this injustice? Are racial injustices supposed to enjoy some sort of preference? Shouldn't all injustices be equally "embraced" by the social conscience?

Yet if we were to dwell upon every injustice and rehash it every year on its anniversary, what time would we have for doing anything else? But, if we really must do this, I think it would be fairer to make a list of all injustices that have occurred through recorded history and the day on which they occurred. Then, as that day appproaches, the injustice that will be rehashed, dwelt upon, and anguished over will be selected in an arbitrary manner and posted on the Internet together with any supporting history.

With what we have now it appears that racial injustice has affirmative action status.

cobaltbob said...

I read about this Supreme Court case over the Xmas holiday in a biography of Thurgood Marshall. I'm not a lawyer and I had never heard of it; admittedly I know very little about civil rights history pre-MLK and this case seemed to be an important decision.

We "rehash" Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade and Bush v. Gore all the time. Why can't we revisit Plessy in a newspaper article directed at the general public? Not appropriate content on a blog written by a Con Law prof? For someone out there, it's new information. Two months ago it would have been news to me.

Enjoy rehashing Lincoln's life and times today. 'cause no one's done it before.

ironrailsironweights said...

According to the parlance of the time, he was classified "7/8 white."

Today, though, that would make him black. Even some minimal amount of black ancestry, 1/128th or whatever, is now sufficient.

Peter

EDH said...

Injustices occurred, yes. I imagine on that same day in history many other injustices occurred as well. We don't hear of them. Were those other injustices somehow inferior to this injustice? Are racial injustices supposed to enjoy some sort of preference? Shouldn't all injustices be equally "embraced" by the social conscience?

The major distinction: this "injustice" was written into law, and was enforced with the force of law on a routine and predictable basis.

Notice, the 14th Amendment actually reflects your view, takes into account that there are many injustices out there (many of them that should not be remedied constitutionally), hence only goes so far to hold that unequal treatment of race through state action itself is unconstitutional.

What was unique about the Plessy decision was that the Court itself adopted in a calculated way the "separate but equal" doctrine as a dodge to satisfy the "equal protection" requirement of the 14th Amend.

HelenParr said...

Perhaps you should enter your law posts in the Westminster Kennel Club show.

*ruf*

Psychedelic George said...

Re: Civil Rights

Unless you have children in school, you can't imagine the degree to which civil rights education has become a part of the cirricula.

There was a NYT piece today about mandatory Black History education in New York state schools. Five other states either have mandatory or recommended curricula.

Where I live, the entire freshman English curriculum for the school year involves reading African-American authors.

It is hard to believe that the typical 14-year-old black teenage boy wants to read the complete works of Toni Morrison, but that's not so far from the truth. It is lots of heavy slogging and if the purpose is to get kids to enjoy reading and literature, it's a long slog for all involved.

David said...

Plessy v. Ferguson did not start Jim Crow. It was one of many judicial decisions upholding Jim Crow legislation, which had been around for a couple of decades when Plessy was decided.

If the court in Plessy had held that the law was unconstitutional, would Jim Crow have been overturned? Very doubtful. Jim Crow was a web of laws on many subjects in many states, including some states that had not been part of the Confederacy. It would have been a huge leap from invalidating a single Louisiana public accommodations law to invalidating all Jim Crow laws.

David said...

George:

If you can, read Francine Prose's 1999 article in Harper's: "Now I Know Why the Caged Bird Can Not Read." Francine Prose is a card carrying liberal on many subjects, but the "literature" that was being inflicted on her children in New York schools drew here ire. She carves Toni Morrison in little pieces. Not hard, because Toni Morrison can not write worth a damn.

Richard Fagin said...

The trajectory of the country might have been a whole lot different if Scott v. Sandford had been decided the other way, Madison. That decision directly led to the Civil War. Part of the 14th Amendment intended to overrule the Scott v. Sandford decision (All persons born in or naturalized in the United States...) may eventually prove to be the undoing of the United States by reason of U.S. born children of illegal immigrants.

PS to the haters going to claim I'm anti-Hispanic racist.....the wife is Mexican. So was the first wife. Bug off.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

It's a good article.

But here:

Judge John Howard Ferguson ruled against Plessy from his bench in Orleans Parish Criminal Court. The judge was born in Massachusetts and had strong ties to abolitionists, [Phoebe Ferguson] said. So she doesn't think he was a racist.

I am reminded of Miss Ophelia, in Uncle Tom's Cabin. A New Englander, she disapproved strongly of slavery, yet she was repulsed when Eva kissed the slaves and sat on Tom's knee, and couldn't bring herself to touch little Topsy. One realizes this is fiction, of course, but I suspect that Miss Ophelia was a type that H. B. Stowe saw quite a bit of in her father's and brother's congregations and in the abolitionist movement, which she was very active in.