In observance of the 120th anniversary of the Plessy vs. Ferguson Decision on May 18, the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation is embarking on an historic initiative to have Homer Plessy posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his significant role in the American Civil Rights Struggle.
“We published a We-the-People petition on the White House web site on April 15, 2016 with two goals in mind—to reach the office of President Obama and reach out to the public to obtain at least 100,000 signatures on our petition,” says Keith Plessy, president and co-founder of the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation. “Thanks to Congressman Cedric Richmond and the Congressional Black Caucus who wrote directly to the President on behalf of our Petition, the first goal has been accomplished. We are now focused on accomplishing the second goal of 100,000 signatures on the petition.”
Organizers believe honoring Plessy is important because despite his legal defeat, Plessy had a major impact on the movement for equal treatment of Blacks in America. His act of civil disobedience combined with the philosophy and strategies of the Citizens Committee inspired the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century.
Homer Adolph Plessy, a native of New Orleans, was chosen by the Citizens’ Committee to be the plaintiff in their test case to challenge the 1890 Separate Car Law of Louisiana, which mandated separate accommodations for Black and White railroad passengers. The aim of the Citizens’ Committee was to overturn segregation laws that were being enacted across the South during the post-Reconstruction era.
On June 7, 1892, Plessy, a man of mixed race, purchased a first class ticket at the East Louisiana Railroad Depot and sat in a car for white riders only. He was arrested for refusing to give up his seat and charged with the crime of violating Louisiana’s Separate Car Law. The case made its way to the United States Supreme Court as the landmark Plessy vs. Ferguson case of 1896. On May 18, 1896 the Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiff in a 7-1 vote and established the separate-but-equal doctrine as the law of the land.
In 1996, Rosa Parks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton. It is time now to honor Homer Adolph Plessy, organizers say.
Plans are already in progress at the Louisiana State Museum to install Homer Adolph Plessy’s Medal of Freedom in the Cabildo’s Sala Capitular, the very room where the case was originally heard in 1892. A permanent exhibit is being prepared for the Crescent City’s Tri-Centennial Celebration in 2018.
To sign the petition go to www.bit.ly/homerplessyaward. Sign in and wait for a confirmation email from the White House, then click on the link in that email. Students around the country who are 13 years old or older may sign the petition as a Civics Project. Students need only provide their name, email address, and zip code. When they sign the petition, their name becomes a part of history.
To read the full petition or learn more, visit www.plessyandferguson.org.