Plessy Versus Ferguson
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- Cobe Hill
- Lynn Jenks
Homer Adolph Plessy was a black man who had dealt with oppression his entire life. He was born in the late 1800's after all. That happened to be prime time for racism in America. Homer was the type of man that faced his problems and stared them down. This lead him to sitting in the "All Whites" car in the East Louisiana Railroad in 1892. This was a mistake in the eyes of the white people, so they decided that it was about time to kick this kid off. The security guards laid down a beating on him then kicked him off the train. They kept his name and information though, as they were going far enough to sue him in the pending future. This is exactly what he wanted to happen, as he was a part of a black civil rights organization that opposed the recently passed Separate Car Act. He wanted them to put him in the courts, to show he was ready to fight for his rights as a black man.
This case began locally, and Homer fought his way through many courts leading up to the Supreme Court. The most important was that of the Louisiana Supreme Court. This court upheld the law and declared it constitutional according to their interpretations. This set Homer off, and he knew that there was only one court left for him to appeal to and gain the freedom he knew he deserved. He had to go all the way up to the Supreme Court. Simply because there were so many black civil rights cases trudging their way up to the Supreme Court at that time, many people didn't believe whole-heatedly that this case was going to be reviewed. Homer wrote his appeal and submitted it to the Supreme Court within days of the rulings in Louisiana.
Homer's appeal was reviewed by the Supreme Court, just as every other case is and it was thought to be a potentially grounds-setting case. A committee was assigned the case and reviewed Homer's facts against Louisiana and vice-versa. The case was deemed appropriate by the committee so they proposed it to the rest of the Court. They all seemed to be on board, so they decided to see the case as soon as they could. This just happened to be a long time later; 1896 to be specific.
The states had created a law that was known as the Separate but Equal Act, and this acted just like it sounded. It upheld the fact that black and white men and women were equal, but they must be separated in the public facilities. This included areas like bathrooms, restaurants and of course, trains. There were plenty more segregated areas that were specifically designated to black people or white people respectively, but these weren't supposed to be what was on trial here. Rather than the Separate but Equal Act as a whole, what was supposed to be on trial here was the Separate Car Act.
For Homer Plessy, this Separate Car Act was the least of his issues, and he knew that there was more to fight for than good seating in a train. He was fighting for true equality for all people of color, and starting with trains didn't seem like enough for him. He wanted to just end it all in one court case, and had big plans to fight the entire Separate but Equal Act, which was a large bite to chew. He gathered all of his facts and took them with him to D.C.
His lawyer was all for supporting equality between races and genders, but he knew that this was a large law to be attacking with such a small base. Only having gone through the courts fighting against the Separate Car Acts meant a lot for this Supreme Court case. They would have to change many things about their approach and their plea. He couldn't support Homer in this endeavor, but what he could do was broaden the picture of their case. He was going for the Supreme Court to overrule the Separate but Equal Act, not among the entirety of the United States, but just within Louisiana. This would potentially set the precedent for further cases, and if they won this case, that precedent would push the equality agenda more than ever before.
When the case was accepted by the Supreme Court, the public opinion was that this law should be upheld. There wasn't very much budge in the public eye, and the courts had all seen that. Juries were impossible to be chosen without some sense of prejudice and or hatred within it. This was a problem that had plagued this case. This made all of the juries biased, and because the public was always against him, Homer lost all of the juries votes as soon as they were selected.
With that all behind him and a fresh new court without such elegances as a jury, Homer believed that this was his chance to change people's minds for real. He didn't have to sway an entire jury, just the Supreme Court, who had shown a similar bias towards cases like this one. They had voted that separation in the school system in Alabama was legal, which is concurrent to the effect of this case. It was a ruling that allowed Separate but Equal to be voted through by each state individually. Since this ruling, many states in the south decided to apply Separate but Equal to their public facilities.
Louisiana was one of the states that had extended the power and use of Separate but Equal to every possible situation. Even in restaurant seating and in the public drinking fountains. There was still a very obvious distinction between the quality of these areas as well. Every area that was specifically for the white people was treated well and kept up, while the areas that were black only were trashed and never cleaned. This was all that was going through the state, and there wasn't an area that they could all go to get away from it.
Homer knew that this had to end here, so he fought and fought with his lawyer to help him destroy the precedent and set his own. Pleading like he was already in court, Homer begged and begged. In a surprise turn, Homer's lawyer decided that it might actually be a good idea to broaden there plea on the court, and chase after that freedom that blacks were in dire need of. He figured that it would be a better way to show the brutality of the separation and the way that they were treated. If they could give examples of every situation that included the separation, it might tear through the hearts of the Justices. They were people after all. It would be hard to show them the pain that the black community had been going through with just a little train car incident. That was the least of their problems, and attacking that wouldn't work, they needed to show everything that had been tormenting them, and Homer's lawyer knew exactly how.
He wanted to show that there was legally no difference between black people and white people. There was no legal way to treat them different, simply because of their skin color. He wasn't trying to prove that they were the same, just equal. There shouldn't be a way to treat white people in court or in public, and a way to treat black people. In the system of laws that were in place at this time, it would have been completely acceptable to just deny someone service because they were black.
Finally the case came along, which was an incredibly stressful but exciting experience for Homer. He was ready to prove his point that he shouldn't be treated so poorly, but that wasn't what was going to happen that day. He didn't know it yet, but the case had been laid out against them from the start. The precedents set before this case were so overwhelming that it would only take a shred of evidence that Homer was in the wrong, and it would be over.
That is exactly what happened on that day. Homer went from being excited to prove his innocence and show the world that it was wrong to segregate based on skin color to being depressed about the fact that he failed to represent his people. The cases ruling came to be that it wasn't above the law to imply a legal distinction between peoples of different skin color. Despite the fact that this seemed to be in complete contrast with the 13th and 14th amendments of the constitution, it was ruled this way. Homer was a precedent setting case that sadly held firm until a very closer time to our own. The case that finally ended the segregation and the Separate but Equal Act was the Brown vs. Board of Education case of 1954. This ended the torment that black men and women had to live through for over 100 years.
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