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*Homer Plessy, an African American businessman and civil rights activist, was born on this date in 1863.
From Louisiana, Plessy was the second child of Adolphe Plessy and Rosa Debergue Plessy. His father died when he was five, and his mother Rosa remarried shortly thereafter. Plessy was apprenticed as a shoemaker, the profession of his stepfather and maternal relatives. In 1887, he married Louise Bordenave at St. Augustine Church. In 1890, then state legislator Murphy Foster, (grandfather of Louisiana Governor Mike 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 a two-year-old streetcar law that separated passengers traveling on trains in Louisiana. 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.
The case eventually made its way to the United States Supreme Court and ruled against Plessy. The Supreme Court upheld the statute of "Separate but Equal" and unfortunately this landmark decision eventually was used to justify segregation in education, public accommodations, and transportation. After the case, Plessy drifted into anonymity, later becoming a life insurance collector with People’s Life Insurance Company. Plessy died on March 1, 1925 and is buried in his mother’s family tomb in St. Louis Cemetery.
The African American Desk Reference
Schomburg Center for research in Black Culture
Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc. and
The New York Public Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pub.