Plessy and Ferguson

January 24, 2010

Featuring descendants of the principals in the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson which issued the doctrine of "Separate but Equal"

Phoebe Ferguson and Keith Plessy stand on the railroad tracks where Homer Plessy was arrested in 1892.
Phoebe Ferguson and Keith Plessy stand on the railroad tracks where Homer Plessy was arrested in 1892.

The Times-Picayune/Ted Jackson

Remembrance and reconciliation will be themes of this intriguing program. Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson will recount their families' history and involvement in the legal case that led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. For the next half-century the decision established a precedent allowing states to impose "separate but equal" segregation.

The two descendants credit much of what they know about the case to the research of Keith Weldon Medley, author of the book We as Freemen: Plessy v. Feguson, The Fight Against Legalized Separation. Mr. Medley, a freelance writer who is a native of New Orleans, will also be on hand on January 24 to speak about the legal ruling.

Homer Plessy, an African American man, was arrested and jailed in 1892 for refusing to leave a whites-only railcar. He was one-eighth African American, which under Louisiana state law classified him as an African American. Mr. Plessy's intention was to challenge a Louisiana state law requiring separate cars for African Americans and whites. Plessy argued that the East Louisiana Railroad had denied him his constitutional rights under the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. But Plessy lost the case when the Orleans Parish judge ruled that the state had the right to regulate railroad companies as long as they operated within state lines. Plessy appealed the decision all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the decision of the lower courts. The Plessy decision was finally overturned in 1954, by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Phoebe Ferguson is a great-great-granddaughter of Judge John Howard Ferguson. Judge Ferguson served on the Orleans Parish Criminal Court and ruled against Homer Plessy. Keith Plessy's great-grandfather was a first cousin of Homer Plessy.

Free and open to the public, January 24, 2010, 3:00 pm, at Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, 1515 SE Monroe Street, Topeka, Kansas, 66612.

To RSVP by January 21, call the Brown Foundation at (785) 235-3939 or send an email by clicking here.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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