Better Late Than Never…I Guess

Law students–and, one hopes, high school history students–all learn about the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. It established the doctrine of “separate but equal,” a doctrine that ensured that Black folks could continue to be separated and definitely not equal, a situation that would be legally sanctioned until the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

A quick summary: In 1892, a White-appearing African American resident of New Orleans named Homer Plessy bought a ticket on a train; he boarded the Whites-only car, then identified himself as Black and refused to sit in the car designated for Black people. He was arrested, and the case made its way to the Supreme Court, which rejected Plessy’s argument that his constitutional rights had been violated.

The Court ruled that a law that “implies merely a legal distinction” between White people and Black people wasn’t unconstitutional. As a direct result of that ruling, restrictive Jim Crow legislation and separate public accommodations based on race became commonplace.

It wasn’t until 1954 that Plessy was overruled; the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision held that separate was inherently unequal. The decision prompted an enormous backlash among White Americans, especially in the South, where hundreds of private schools (segregation academies) drained White children out of public school systems.

Ever since Brown, Americans have been engaged in a culture war over efforts to actually live up to the promise of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. I document many of the contemporary battles of that culture war in this blog. Although progress has been painfully slow–and although sometimes, as with the travesty that was the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, we seem to be regressing– we really have made headway.

One sign of that progress was the news last weekend that Louisiana officials have voted to pardon Homer Plessy–a mere 125 years after his loss in the Supreme Court.

Now, 125 years after the shameful decision that codified the Jim Crow-era “separate but equal” fiction, the namesake of that famous case, Homer Plessy, may be pardoned. The Louisiana Board of Pardons unanimously approved a pardon Friday, according to the Associated Press, sending it to Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for final approval.

Another–and positively heartwarming–sign of progress is the fact that descendants of Homer Plessy and John Howard Ferguson, the Judge who ruled against Homer Plessy at the trial court level, have come together to establish a foundation they have named the Plessy AND Ferguson Foundation.

From that foundation’s website:

After meeting through mutual friend and We As Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson author Keith Weldon Medley, Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson began a partnership that eventually blossomed into the Plessy & Ferguson foundation. Together, they visit schools, festivals, and academic or historical institutions, spreading their message that their mutual history can be a tool to create unity and understanding. By coming together as Plessy and Ferguson, they have seized the opportunity to pick up the torch, keeping history alive, and sharing their vision for true democracy in the 21st century.

CBS Saturday ran an interview with Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson last Saturday, and it’s worth watching. They tell the story of how, after Medley introduced them in 2004, they decided to form the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation, and how they have subsequently worked to have five historical markers honoring Homer Plessy added to the New Orleans landscape.

But as the Washington Post article linked to above notes, and historians have documented, those markers and that recognition don’t — and can’t — include a historical marker at Plessy’s old address on Claiborne Avenue. His home was demolished in 1968 as part of an urban renewal project that uprooted a Black community to make way for Interstate 10–one example among many of the deliberate siting of interstate highways that destroyed Black neighborhoods or separated Black residential areas from White ones in numerous cities around the country, very much including Indianapolis.

That’s another piece of our history that needs repairing…


  1. Thanks for that bit of good news. It is good to hear some. Especially right after a young white vigilante got away with murder .

  2. I just finished an article about making better decisions considering the Universal Law of Cause and Effect. I believe the Christian version is, “You reap what you sow.”

    Jesus was trying to convey that there is no way around this law. Considering our legacy against the Native Americans and African Americans we used as slaves, we will never reconcile our karma or power imbalance until we atone for our sins. All the talk and plaques are meaningless without reconciling our wrong decisions and actions.

    And karma doesn’t care if you believe it or not. There’s no way around it. Sorry, Kyle, only a jury of your peers say you’re not guilty, but the Universe says differently. 😉

  3. Somehow after yesterday’s Kenosha verdict a 125 year wait for some justice doesn’t feel like much of a victory.

  4. If Rittenhouse was black, he’d have been lynched months ago.

    White murderers walk. Add that to our basket of deplorable sins.

    Then, there’s the gerrymandering in Wisconsin…and Ohio…and Texas…and Georgia. Gotta make sure “those people” don’t get represented. We are a desperately sick nation run by bigoted fools.

  5. The Rittenhouse court decision of Not Guilty, disgusting as it is, came as no surprise. The many films of him marching with his assault weapon, mouth open yelling who knows what and being allowed to do so by police was forgotten as the jury watched the puny, pitiful example of a male as he trembled and cried and won the pity vote. Wisconsin is one of many states who do NOT prevent defendants from claiming self-protection when they go into a volatile situation armed, not even with a weapon capable of firing THIRTY rounds. He stated he carried it in case he was threatened but didn’t really believe he would be; he murdered the two unarmed VICTIMS and wounded the one with a small hand gun. And what about his Mommy who armed and aided her son by driving him across the state line to join those protesting the protesters supporting BLM.

    Well; he is white and the two dead and one severely wounded were there to support Black Lives Matter. We are watching the Arbery murder trial as one defense attorney demanded no Black Parsons be admitted to the courtroom then declared the Black Ministers who rallied outside the courthouse to be the same as a lynch mob. We are also waiting for the verdict against Trump’s supported neo-Nazi and White Supremacist organizations in Charlottesville.

    “What goes around, comes around.” Except we have never left Jim Crow laws behind to consider they are coming around again.

  6. We have so, so very far to go, to understand the underlying racism in this country, to this day.

    Vernon Turner has it right on all three topics in his response.

    If only some of the Republicans in our Congress will quit hiding, speaking their minds only in private, come out in public, and speak the truths and ideals this country was founded on, can we get back to some semblance of sanity.

    Without that, this country will become no better than a third world country, you know, the ones we profess to be so much better than.

  7. I was not surprised by the verdict n the Rittenhouse trial, especially considering the judge’s actions and words during the trial. When he told the jurors that, if they found self defense, they were done, he effectively negated any finding of guilty on the other charges. I am aware that the prosecution was not very capable, but then, I didn’t expect that their hearts would be in this case. We do indeed have a very very long way to go.

  8. The highway mentioned at the end of the post is a good example of the racist transportation that Pete Buttigieg acknowledged. For people that insist a road (or building, etc) can’t be racist, I have no patience and no sympathy. Those people are either a combination of stupid and ignorant, or willfully supporting racism. Or both.

  9. For an insightful and personal account of the highway construction targeting minority communities (poor white and POC) and the long-term impacts of those projects, read “The Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom. Her memoir of life in a community divided by that I10 project is disheartening, frustrating and infuriating by turns. The decades of Jim Crow laws, creating generational trauma, followed by the hardened systemic racism baked into the communities involved, remain in place not only in the South but all over the country. Indianapolis is a classic example.

    The travesty in Kenosha comes as no surprise. The Arbery trial in Georgia will likely result in the same outcome. One Black juror on the panel in a county where 27% of the population is Black conjures memories of the film, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Jurors who wish to continue living in their communities after the trial likely act in self-interest, maybe even unconsciously, when coming to a decision. Reasonable doubt can be a very handy tool for remaining in the larger community’s good graces. Charlottesville trials present another opportunity to observe systemic racism in the judicial system. The outcomes follow the same script we have seen for my entire lifetime and the decades before. Maybe the only difference now is that the formerly local and state media focus on these travesties has become national and international.

    Pleading ignorance to the events of murderous suppression is no longer an excuse for inaction.

  10. At least we are talking about racism and it’s negative Implications and consequences. Sometime between 1968 and 1980, it became impolite to even mention that racism still existed. I am convinced more than ever than that the Reagan Consensus on silence regarding racism is finally over. Hopefully, the country is ready to admit we have a problem and begin to work on solving it. Acknowledgement and action are long overdue.

  11. The only thing that the Rittenhouse acquittal revealed to me is that the NRA has been successful in some states at least of getting their products written into state laws. It would appear to be true now, at least in Wisconsin, that there is no self-defense distinction between killing a person from a distance and striking them. Be careful who you touch. If they happen to be carrying a firearm it could cost you your life.

    The second learning comes as no surprise. Wealth buys freedom.

  12. I recall Plessy very well and thought it stunk. I was a junior in law school and justice of my law fraternity when Brown was decided, and we in the fraternity had been waiting with great anticipation for the result and cheered it. While justice my vice justice and I decided to invite a black student into our group. We were called to a group of our fraternity’s alums in the practice and asked whether we wanted to do what had never been done before in our all-white fraternity. We stood our ground and Bob was initiated before Brown was decided, graduated, and did well in the practice.

    Brown fell on fertile ground with some of us young law students and I thought we were headed for the equal but not the separate of Plessy. I was wrong. We have since regressed and Republicans these days in a desperate attempt to remain relevant have embraced racial positions that make Plessy look like a liberal holding.

    I here note just when I thought Republicans could go no lower that the Republican Senator Kennedy of Louisiana has extended his racist views to encompass women and where they were born as new criteria for their fitness to appointive office. It seems that such criteria trumps the candidate’s qualifications as a Cornell professor with extensive experience in the financial world and perfect qualifications to be the chief cop in the regulation of banks – and I use the verb “trumps” advisedly. GRRRR!

    To do? Accommodate change, human as well as technological.

  13. Rittenhouse was definitely guilty of violating curfew and of violating the law that minors should not be in possession of any guns, let alone an AR 15. The fact that he got away with those 2 criminal offenses will give other minors license to engage in grandiose dreams of heroism during civil unrest.

    And yes, if he was black, I do not doubt he would have been convicted or lynched. It remains true, however, that he did feel his life was threatened. One man attacked him with a skateboard and was killed by him. Another “medic” pointed a gun at him. Rosenberg repeatedly threatened and chased him.

    He was 17 and like most 17 year olds, his judgement was very poor. I don’t know who gave him the gun, but that person should definitely be taken to court. He should not have been there, PERIOD.

    That his mother “allowed” him to go to Kenosha during violent protests(looting and robbing?) shows very poor judgement on her part. Where was his father during all this? His father should have at least tried to STOP him.

    NO 17 yo kid should be playing vigilante. Who influenced his thinking? Who failed to stop him? Which adults were influencing his choice to go to Kenosha? I think his behavior is a symptom of a social problem in which young men are not given the appropriate guidance and discipline they need.

    The Wisconsin laws that allows people to openly carry guns further supports vigilante behavior on the part of its citizens.

    All young men regardless of their race need good mentors who teach them to use their strength to defend the weak i.e. kids, elderly, dare I say at times, women or weaker men? They need mentors who can teach them how to appropriately channel their anger. They need to know that real men cry, that they ask for help when they need it, that it’s ok to be afraid, sad, etc. That they can show feelings of love toward one another without being accused of being “gay” or “sissy”.

    For young black men, they are often left without fathers who are often incarcerated due to racism in the criminal injustice system. For Native American young men, they need to have their elders help them reconnect to their native culture so that they do not feel so horribly uprooted, disenfranchised. As for young Latino men, I have to admit to cultural ignorance. I suppose their fathers are also being incarcerated much more than white fathers.

    2 wrongs will not make a right. Having seen the evidence, I can’t convict Kyle Rittenhouse. What I can say is that he is a symptom of poor gun regulation, poor parenting and guidance, and the continued expectation that men are expected to be tough, strong heroes(it’s even in the movies). Kyle Rittenhouse wanted to be a hero. Instead, he has to face the fact that his poor judgement resulted in the death of 2 men by his own decision to take an AR 15 with him. I hope he has learned not to play the heroic vigilante.

    I thank God that when I went to the Indy women’s protest in 2017 that I did not see anyone carrying a gun. Otherwise, someone, even me could have been killed.

  14. There is equality in racist America and equal rights kick in after wasicu wasteys have gotten theirs.

  15. Rosenbaum deserved to live out his life. Huber deserved to continue his activities as an abuser.

    If Democrats cannot protect convicted abusers and convicted child rapists,who will?

  16. Here’s some “facts” for all of you except “Rittenhouse Verdict was the correct Verdict” .
    Facts are a hard thing when they don’t fit your liberal narrative. Today’s comments further expose how entrenched you are in your own agenda while you tout your intellectual assessments.

    Rittenhouse now needs to sue, sue, sue for the injustices done to him starting with Big Joe.

  17. Thanks, Becky – for a troll, you have given me a good laugh.
    You used “facts” and Breitbart in the same post.

  18. Remember when someone posts viewpoint they shouldn’t be harassed or called a troll. Its unfortunate that we can’t go where ever we want and say whatever is on our mind. Alexander Solzhenitsyn did and we forget the words he said and are blatantly marching Ourselves into an over reaching government that wishes to imprison us unless we fall in line. Thats why so many need to be reading The Federalist Papers for a start. So many have given their lives so we can speak our minds freely

  19. Hey Len, thanks for proving my point. You can get these “facts” from a variety of sources. Even CNN is backtracking on their previous narrative.
    But, you’re not really interested in what actually happened. Glad I could provide you some comic relief because there isn’t much levity in the implosion that’s occurring within the democrat party.

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