On June 7, 1892, an African-American shoemaker from the Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans bought a first-class railroad ticket in the white car to travel to Covington, Louisiana. Homer Adolph Plessy, who was seven-eighths white, was legally considered to be “colored.” When asked to leave the white car, Plessy was arrested. It was, however, a pre-planned act of civil disobedience that led to the historic Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the “separate but equal” Jim Crow doctrine from 1896, until it was overturned by the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954.
Today Keith Plessy, whose great-grandfather was Homer’s first cousin, and Phoebe Ferguson, the great-great-granddaughter of Judge John Howard Ferguson, who decided the case, are hoping to attach a new meaning to their famous surnames. The two have formed a civil rights education organization called the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation, which marked Tuesday night the anniversary of Homer Plessy’s decision to buy the ticket that made history in 1892.
The event, the two descendants told the Washington Post, was “a forerunner of the legal strategies and civil rights disobedience that took root in the civil rights struggles of the 20th century.”
Plessy told the Post that he didn’t set out to be a leader or scholar, and has been happy working as a bellman at a Marriott hotel for the past 30 years.
“But I have an obligation and a privilege to keep my ancestor’s history alive. What my ancestors dreamt about, I’m able to live,” he said.
(Photo: Plessy & Ferguson Foundation)