Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Setting the Stage for Rosa Parks

The Man Before Rosa Parks ~ Homer Plessy
From a Tuesday, Oct 25 post by Don Surber
Many are the tributes to Rosa Parks today. I will highlight some of them later. But it is of import to remember the man who came before her: Homer Plessy, an octoroon, and if you are too young to know what that means, you are blessed with ignorance.
From Who2.Com
Who Was Homer Plessy?
A Creole of European and African descent, Homer Plessy was arrested and jailed in 1892 for sitting in a Louisiana railroad car designated for white people only. Plessy had violated the 1890 state law that called for racially segregated facilities. Plessy went to court, claiming the law violated the 13th and 14th amendments, but Judge John Howard Ferguson found him guilty. . . .
From AARegistry.Com
A Bit of History
In 1890, then state legislator Murphy Foster, wrote the Separate Car law, which called for the segregation of passenger trains traveling within the state of Louisiana. In 1892, Homer Plessy challenged [that law]. His action made him a plaintiff and defendant in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Case of Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896.

The year he challenged segregation, the Citizens’ Committee, a group of influential African American civic and business leaders, chose Homer Plessy to board the white car of the East Louisiana Railway leaving from New Orleans and traveling to Covington. The Citizens’ Committee’s strategy was to purposely break the Separate Car law in order for a case to go before the state supreme court.
From LawBuzz.Com
Setting the Stage
For some time activists had looked for a person who could help to get rid of discriminatory laws against blacks once and for all. Since Homer was nearly white, he seemed the perfect choice.

Plessy bought a train ticket for Covington, Louisiana. He planned to travel from New Orleans. In June of 1892, blacks were required to sit in a black-only railroad car. Plessy refused to do that. He sat in the whites-only car. He was arrested and thrown into the New Orleans jail. He didn't get very far with his travels that June day.

Of course, Homer Plessy was convicted of refusing to leave the whites-only car. His conviction was upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court, so Plessy and his advocates appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Homer's suit was to prevent Judge Ferguson (the trial judge in New Orleans where Plessy was found guilty in the first place) from carrying out Homer's sentence - a $25 fine or 20 days in jail.

Homer Plessy lost his bid to be treated equally with whites in America. The fact that Homer was 7/8 white and 1/8 black didn't seem to matter to the majority of the high court. Only one justice, John Marshall Harlan, dissented from this outrageous result.
From Louisville Library
Harlan's Dissent
"In the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. "Our constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. . .The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race, while they are on a public highway, is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution. It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds."
From Achievement.Org
60 Years Later, Rosa Parks Arrives
Most historians date the beginning of the modern civil rights movement in the United States to December 1, 1955. That was the day when an unknown seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger.
From La Shawn Barber
The Result and Tribute
December 1, 1955, was also the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted about a year. Blacks refused to ride the buses in Montgomery, Alabama, until November 13, 1956, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregation on buses unconstitutional.
Thank you Homer Plessy. Thank you Rosa Parks.


  1. A nice post. You know, I've always wondered how it is that someone who is 7/8 white is deemed to be black. Sad that it took our country so long to figure out what was meant by "all men are created equal." In some ways, we're still working on it.

  2. Wow, thanks for the great history update. I needed that.


Keep it clean and positive. (And sorry about the word verification, but the spmb*ts are out in full force!)