In 1888, Plessy, then twenty-five years old, married nineteen-year old Louise Bordenave, with Plessy’s employer Brito serving as a witness. In 1889, the Plessys moved to Faubourg Tremé at 1108 North Claiborne Avenue. He registered to vote in the Sixth Ward’s Third Precinct.
Plessy seems to have led a rather ordinary life; however, by 1887, he became vice-president of the Justice, Protective, Educational, and Social Club, a group dedicated to reforming public education in New Orleans.......
In 1892, the Citizens' Committee asked Plessy to agree to violate Louisiana's Separate Car law, which required the segregation of passenger trains by race. On June 7, 1892, Plessy, then twenty-nine years old, and resembling in skin color and physical features a Caucasian or white male, bought a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railroad, running between New Orleans and Covington, the seat of St. Tammany Parish, and sat in the "whites-only" passenger car. When the conductor came to collect his ticket, Plessy told him that he was 7/8 white and that he refused to sit in the "blacks-only" car. Plessy was immediately arrested by Detective Chris C. Cain, put into the Orleans Parish jail, and released the next day on a $500 bond.
Plessy's case was heard before Judge John Ferguson one month after his arrest. Tourgée argued that Plessy's civil rights, as granted by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, had been violated. Ferguson denied this argument and ruled that Louisiana, under state law, had the power to set rules that regulated railroad business within its borders.
The Louisiana State Supreme Court affirmed the judge's ruling and refused to grant a rehearing, but did allow a petition for writ of error. This petition was accepted by the United States Supreme Court and four years later, in April 1896, arguments for Plessy v. Ferguson began. Tourgée argued that the state of Louisiana had violated the Thirteenth Amendment, which granted freedom to the slaves, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which stated, "no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law."
On May 18, 1896, Justice Henry Billings Brown delivered the majority opinion in favor of the State of Louisiana. In part, the opinion read, "The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based on color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to the either. ... If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of voluntary consent of the individuals."
The lone dissenting vote was cast by Justice John Marshall Harlan, a Kentucky Republican. In his dissenting opinion, the first Justice Harlan wrote: "I am of opinion that the statute of Louisiana is inconsistent with the personal liberty of citizens, white and black, in that state and hostile to both the spirit and letter of the Constitution of the United States."
The "Separate but Equal" doctrine, enshrined by the Plessy ruling, remained valid until 1954, when it was overturned by the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and later outlawed completely by the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Though the Plessy case did not involve education, it formed the legal basis of separate school systems for the following fifty-eight years.
Separate and Unequal: Homer Plessy and the Supreme Court Decision that Legalized Racism.(by Harvey Fireside)(Brief Article)(Book Review)
Sep 22, 2005; Separate and Unequal: Homer Plessy and the Supreme Court Decision that Legalized Racism Harvey Fireside [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]...