Homer Plessy Biography

Homer Plessy, a French-speaking American person of color from Louisiana, played a significant role in the landmark Supreme Court case ‘Plessy v. Ferguson’. As a member of the civil rights group, the Comité des Citoyens, Plessy bravely challenged racial segregation laws by attempting to travel in the whites-only passenger car. Despite being one-eighth African-American but appearing white, Plessy was arrested and his case was dismissed by Judge John Howard Ferguson. This decision ultimately upheld the Jim Crow system and led to separate school systems for whites and blacks. However, the tide turned with the 1954 Supreme Court decision in ‘Brown v. Board of Education’ and the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which reversed the Plessy decision and fought against racial discrimination.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Homer Adolph Plessy
  • Died At Age: 62
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Louise Bordenave Plessy (m. 1888)
    • Father: Joseph Adolphe Plessy
    • Mother: Rosa Debergue
  • Born Country: United States
  • Occupation: Civil Rights Activist
  • Died on: March 1, 1925
  • U.S. State: Louisiana
  • City: New Orleans, Louisiana

Childhood & Early Life

Homer Adolph Plessy was born on March 17, 1862, in the French-speaking Creole community in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. His parents were carpenter Joseph Adolphe Plessy and seamstress Rosa Debergue. Homer’s grandfather, Germain Plessy, was a white man from France who had married Catherine Mathieu, a free woman of color.

Homer lost his father at the age of seven, and his mother later married Victor M. Dupart, a post office clerk and shoemaker. Homer worked as a shoemaker at Patricio Brito’s shoe-making business during the 1880s. He was also influenced by his stepfather’s involvement in the 1873 Unification Movement, which aimed to establish principles of equality in Louisiana. In 1887, Homer became vice-president of the Justice, Protective, Educational, and Social Club, which sought to reform public education in New Orleans.

Arrest & Trial

Homer Plessy was a member of the Comité des Citoyens, a group that advocated for equal civil rights for all races. The group opposed the Separate Car Act of 1890, which required train companies to have separate cars for blacks and whites. In 1892, Plessy volunteered to participate in a civil disobedience plan devised by the committee. He bought a first-class ticket on a train and sat in the whites-only passenger car, refusing to move to the black-only car when asked by the conductor. He was arrested and imprisoned, and later fined $25 by Judge John Howard Ferguson.

Plessy appealed the ruling to the Louisiana State Supreme Court, but they upheld Ferguson’s decision. However, they issued him a writ of error, allowing the case to be taken to the US Supreme Court. In 1896, the Supreme Court heard the case, known as ‘Plessy v. Ferguson’. The majority opinion, delivered by Justice Henry Billings Brown, upheld the constitutionality of Louisiana’s separate car law. This ruling legalized racial segregation and perpetuated separate school systems for the next half century.

Family & Personal Life

In 1888, Homer Plessy married Louise Bordenave, and they had three children together. After the unsuccessful challenge to the Jim Crow system, Plessy returned to a quieter life but remained active in the community’s social organizations. He worked as a shoemaker, laborer, clerk, and insurance agent. Plessy passed away at the age of 62 in 1925 and was buried in St. Louis Cemetery No.1.

In honor of his contributions to civil rights movements, the Louisiana House of Representatives and the New Orleans City Council observed the first Homer Plessy Day on June 7, 2005. In 2009, the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation was established by Keith Plessy, Homer’s great-grandson, and Phoebe Ferguson, a descendant of Judge Ferguson. They placed a historical marker at the site where Homer Plessy was arrested to commemorate the civil rights disobedience event.

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