Baton Rouge leaders react to the pardon of civil rights pioneer Homer Plessy

Over 100 years after being convicted, civil rights leader Homer Plessy was posthumously pardoned by Gov. Edwards on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.
Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 10:44 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Over 100 years after being convicted, civil rights leader Homer Plessy was posthumously pardoned by Gov. Edwards on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022.

On June 7, 1892, Plessy was arrested for violating the Separate Car Act, when he purchased a first-class ticket to Covington in a “whites-only” passenger car. A legal battle led all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, in what became Plessy v. Ferguson.

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Plessy, man whose arrest led to ‘separate but equal,’ is pardoned

The pardon was made possible due to the 2006 Rev. Avery C. Alexander Act, which allows civil rights activists or their families to ask for pardons if they were fighting against injustices. The state pardon board in November 2021 unanimously recommended the pardon at the request of both Plessy and Ferguson’s families.

“This particular case cemented what we knew as separate but equal in this country,” said Eugene Collins.

Eugene Collins, from the Baton Rouge Chapter of the NAACP, said the domino effect that followed completely changed American history.

“It’s actually hailed as one of the worst decisions the supreme court ever made that sent us into this 50-year cycle where we saw separate but equal become a thing not only with that rail call, but on buses, schools, lunch counters, and it started in this moment,” said Collins.

This may have happened more than a century ago, but historians believe there’s a lot we can still learn from Plessy, and from the historic moment.

“Our young people are now asking for more nuance and things about history, and they can handle it,” said Dr. Albert Samuels.

Dr. Albert Samuels,  Political Science and History Chair at Southern University, hopes this will lead to more open and honest conversations, and how issues like race can still impact society.

“In many ways, while Plessy may no longer be the law of the land, but in many ways, it still represents the facts on the ground,” said Samuels.

Gov. Edwards said the conviction never should have happened – but there’s no expiration on justice.

Even though a lot of people agree, some wish it would’ve happened a bit sooner.

“There are some wins that are happening, but in the same breath I’m tired of ceremonial wins. This would’ve been a bigger deal if this could’ve happened so he can still enjoy this, but at the same time you can’t discount the importance of this,” said Collins.

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