- In 1890, Louisiana passed a law imposing mandatory segregation of train passengers by race.
- In opposition, a group of individuals formed the Committee of Citizens and recruited Homer Plessy to challenge the constitutionality of the law.
- Of note, Homer Plessy was one-eighth black and seven-eighth white. With fair complexion, he could easily pass for a white person with ease.
- On June 7, 1892, Plessy bought a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railroad from New Orleans to Covington. As planned, he took a seat in the "whites-only"
car. When the conductor came to collect his ticket, Plessy informed him of his racial status. He was therefore directed to vacate his seat and move to the "coloreds-
only" car. Plessy was immediately arrested when he refused.
- The judge who heard Plessy's case was John Howard Ferguson.
- Plessy's attorney argued that Plessy's arrest had violated his rights as provided by the Thirteenth Amendment, that granted freedom to the slaves, and the
Fourteenth Amendment, that stated, "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor
shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, and property without due process of law..."
- But Ferguson believed otherwise. He ruled that segregation was "constitutional" under Louisiana law.
- The Louisiana Supreme Court likewise ruled in favor of Ferguson.
- The Committee of Citizens fought the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court and lost on May 18, 1896 when the Court upheld the constitutionality of
state laws requiring racial segregation.
- The Plessy case therefore cemented in place the doctrine of "separate but equal" which legitimized legalized discrimination based on race --- as long as facilities
were of "equal quality." The only problem was in actuality, the services and accommodations designated for blacks and people of color were grossly inferior to
those designated for whites.
- The Plessy cement, however, was jack-hammered into pieces 58 years later when the United States Supreme Court struck down the principle of "separate but
equal" in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
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