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Homer Plessy Getting Pardon 125 Years After Guilty Plea in Race Case

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards will pardon Homer Plessy posthumously on Wednesday, more than a century after the Black man was arrested in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow a Jim Crow law creating “whites-only” train cars, reports the Associated Press. The Plessy v Ferguson case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which began a half-century of laws calling for “separate but equal” accommodations that kept Black people in segregated schools, housing, theaters and other venues. Edwards scheduled the pardon ceremony for a spot near where Plessy was arrested in 1892 for breaking a Louisiana law requiring Black people to ride in cars that the law described as “equal but separate” from those for whites. The date is close to the 125th anniversary of Plessy’s guilty plea in New Orleans.

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“Hopefully, this will give some relief to generations who have suffered under discriminatory laws,” said Phoebe Ferguson, the great-great-granddaughter of Judge John Ferguson. The state Board of Pardons recommended the pardon in November for Plessy, who was a 30-year-old shoemaker when he boarded the train car as a member of a small civil rights group hoping to overturn the law. The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the Plessy case in Brown v Board of Education in 1954. In Plessy, Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote for the 7-1 majority, "Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences.” Eight months after the ruling in his case, Plessy pleaded guilty on Jan. 11, 1897. He was fined $25 at a time when 25 cents would buy a pound of round steak and 10 pounds of potatoes. He died in 1925 with the conviction on his record.

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