New Orleans, LA

Homer Plessy and other Black New Orleans Activists who fought segregation, Part 1

Ashley Lideau

NEW ORLEANS, LA — Segregation has been eradicated in the United States when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was adopted. The Act outlawed the infamous 1896 Homer Plessy v. Ferguson case, which began in New Orleans as a part of the Black equality movement.

The case itself started implementing the Separate but Equal law, supplanting the then-existed Jim Crow Law. The case's namesake, Homer Plessy, is one of some Black activists who fight against segregation in the late 19th century in New Orleans.

Homer Adolphe Plessy, a French-speaking free people of color, was born in New Orleans amid the Civil War on March 17, 1863. He came of age during a time that in many ways differs significantly from that of his parents, Adolphe and Rosa Debergue Plessy. Slavery no longer existed, and so as the term free people of color.

Back then, Plessy, whose parents were descendants of Haitian Creoles escaping from the Haitian Revolution, rode integrated streetcars and attended integrated schools. He also could vote and run for elected office, as the 1868 Louisiana constitution, which enshrined these "civil, political, and public rights," allows him to do those.

Yet, as Homer Plessy entered his teen years, a compromise resolving the contested 1876 presidential election ended Reconstruction. As a result, conservative white Democrats quickly gained power in Louisiana.

The new government began to dismantle advances in racial equality, starting with integrated public schools. Activists in New Orleans, mainly Black settlers and radical Republicans, fought the resegregation of schools through mass protests and lawsuits to no avail.

A new state constitution approved in 1879 eliminated a guarantee of equal rights to public places. It also ended public school integration and started segregation of many facilities around the town, integrated after the New Orleans riots of 1866.

Thus, Plessy and his contemporaries need to fight with the newly-segregated society, which was initially not existed in New Orleans.

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