Plessy vs. Ferguson


Tourists visit St. Louis Cemetery Number One following tour guides who eagerly point out the grave of Marie Laveau. They linger there telling stories of the spirits she summoned and the supernatural powers she used in the practice of voodoo. But nearby is a gravesite that holds little interest for most who pass. Civil rights historians, writers and researchers pause at the grave of Homer Adolph Plessy, and recall the doctrine that was the basis of Jim Crow laws throughout the south, Separate, but Equal. Civil rights organizations in 1892 were determined to challenge the law that required separate accomodations on the East Louisiana Railroad line. Enlisting the help of Homer Plessy, who was 7/8 white and 1/8 black, they purchased a ticket from New Orleans to Covington and Plessy took his seat beside a white passenger. He was thrown off the train, as planned, and the test case went all the way to the Supreme Court, hoping to overturn the doctrine of separate but equal. To no one's surprise the Supreme Court of 1896 upheld the doctrine and it stood as law until 1954 when it was overturned by Brown vs. the Board of Education. Justice John Harlan, in his dissent to Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896 had forcast the future when he wrote, "Our constitution is color blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens."