Homer Plessy

Can you believe that someone would get himself arrested on purpose? That is exactly what Homer Plessy did. He agreed with a group of citizens who wanted to challenge unjust laws. As a test, Plessy violated the 1890 Louisiana Separate Car law. That means he agreed to break the law on purpose.

The Separate Car law said that white citizens and black citizens had to ride in separate railroad cars. Plessy had one African great grandmother. All the rest of his family was white. He looked white. When he boarded the "whites only" railroad car and handed his ticket to the conductor, Plessy had to tell the conductor that he was one eighth black. When he refused to move to the "blacks only" car, the conductor had him arrested. Plessy had to pay a $500 bond to get out of jail.

The citizen's group hired Albion Winegar Tourgee, a white lawyer from New York who fought for the rights of African-Americans. Tourgee took the case through the Louisiana courts, which found Plessy guilty, and to the United States Supreme Court, which unfortunately, reached the same decision.

What special things in Homer Plessy's background gave him the courage to defy the law? He was born free in New Orleans in 1862. When he was five, his father died. Like his stepfather, he became a shoemaker. He married and lived a peaceful life until he was thirty years old and boarded that railroad car.

After the court case that wrote his name into American history, Plessy returned to an uneventful life as an insurance collector. He died in 1925. Like many American heroes, Plessy was an ordinary person with extraordinary courage to stand up for what he believed was right.

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