Louisiana gov will pardon Plessy v. Ferguson freedom rider

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FILE – Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, descendants of the principals in the Plessy V. Ferguson court case, pose for a photograph in front of a historical marker in New Orleans, on Tuesday, June 7, 2011. Homer Plessy, the namesake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1896 “separate but equal” ruling, is being considered for a posthumous pardon. The Creole man of color died with a conviction still on his record for refusing to leave a whites-only train car in New Orleans in 1892. (AP Photo/Bill Haber, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s governor said Wednesday that he will definitely sign a posthumous pardon for Homer Plessy, whose 1892 arrest for refusing to leave a “whites only” railroad car wound up making “separate but equal” U.S. law for a half-century.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said he wants relatives of people on both sides of Plessy v. Ferguson, which allowed Jim Crow laws discriminating against Blacks, to be with him when he signs the pardon.

Keith Plessy, a descendant of one of Plessy’s cousins — Homer Plessy had no children — and Phoebe Ferguson, a great-great-granddaughter of Judge John Ferguson, created a foundation to advocate for civil rights education.

The pardon should draw “proper attention to just how historic this is to take away that conviction for something that should have obviously never ever been a crime,” Edwards said on his monthly radio call-in show.

The 30-year-old shoemaker’s purchase of a ticket and his seating choice sprang from a late 19th century effort to overturn a segregation law. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1896 that as long as accomodations were equal, it was fine to make them separate. The decision thus sanctioned state and local governments to segregate housing, neighborhoods, schools, transportation and other public accomodations.

Plessy pleaded guilty in 1897 to violating the Separate Car Act and paid a $25 fine. The conviction was on his record when he died in 1925.

Louisiana’s Board of Pardons voted unanimously Friday to recommend a pardon. The Orleans Parish district attorney got the issue before the board at the request of Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson.

Keith Plessy told the Board of Pardons that members of a 20th century civil rights group told him that Homer Plessy was the first freedom rider.

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