A Louisiana board voted Friday (November 12) to pardon Homer Plessy, a Creole man who was arrested after boarding a whites-only train car in the late 1800s. His arrest became central to the 1896 Supreme Court "separate but equal" decision which effectively upheld institutional discrimination against Black people in the US.
According to reports, the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole voted unanimously to pardon Plessy who boarded the train car to challenge the state's racist law, the Separate Car Act, requiring segregated seating on trains. In addition to his arrest, Plessy was fined $25 and his conviction remained on his record even after his death in 1925, the Associated Press reported.
Plessy vs. Ferguson was the landmark case that made it all the way to the nation's highest court where the justices at the time decided that segregated facilities were constitutional, as long as they were of equal quality. It wasn't until 1954 in the Brown vs Board of Education decision that the ruling was overturned.
"I'm extremely proud to carry the surname of Plessy. Long before civil rights activism became a term, Homer Plessy, and the citizens committees' philosophy and strategies inspired the civil rights movement of the 20th century," Keith Plessy, a descendant of Homer Plessy, said during the pardon hearing.
According to The Guardian, Plessy's pardon application was submitted through a little-known state law, the Avery C. Alexander pardon law that says a person convicted under a law that enforces or maintains racial segregation or discrimination is eligible for pardon.
Keith Plessy along with Phoebe Ferguson, a descendant of the man on the opposite side of the court case, banded together to form an organization that seeks to raise awareness of the case's impact on Black people.
"We are so proud that this application was a joint endeavor between the descendants of both sides of the Plessy v. Ferguson case, and we come together in the true spirit of reconciliation and healing," Ferguson said.
"If the pardon is granted and the governor of Louisiana signs it, it will show a willingness of our state government to recognize the devastating effect the enactment of the separate car law had on Black citizens in Louisiana," Ferguson added.
"It will show that even 125 years later an apology for enacting those laws can have great effect and for others laws to be overturned or examined and for others to receive a pardon."
The Board's recommendation now goes to the governor's office for official approval.