Freedom needs more
than celebrating. It needs defending. And that takes guts. My great-grandfather’s
first cousin was a shoemaker. He challenged the Separate Car
Act of Louisiana, which mandated separate accommodations for
people of different races. The railroad was partner in
this attempt to change the law. It cost them a lot of money to
change cars when it was easier to just let all passengers
ride the same car. He was selected because of his
complexion, and he would appear to be someone of the white race. There was this thing
called a one-drop rule. If you had one drop of
African blood in you, you were mixed race. He boarded the train car. And the conductor, as well as
the arresting officer, were all in on this plan to fight the
segregation laws of Louisiana. So the conductor approached
him and asked him was he a person of color. And he responded yes, I’m a
person of color, I purchased my first-class ticket, and
I’m going to go to Covington on this train. Upon his arrest, he was
removed from that train and brought to criminal court. My name is Keith Plessy. And my great-grandfather’s
cousin’s name was Homer Plessy. Fifty-eight years before Rosa
Parks protested on a Montgomery, Alabama bus the right to sit
where she pleased, Homer Plessy was battling for the right to
sit where he pleased, in 1892, on an East Louisiana
Railroad Passenger Train. In 1896, the landmark case
of Plessy v. Ferguson reaches the Supreme Court. Plessy’s lawyers argued that
the state law violated the equal protection of the laws
guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution,
which had been ratified twenty-five years earlier. “No state shall make or enforce
any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of
citizens of the United States nor deny any person within
its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The Supreme Court said the Constitution must be interpreted
to reflect “the customs and traditions of the people.”
So much for equal protection. The Supreme Court, after all,
is a reflection of society. And so when our society was
deeply racist, so was the Court. Whatever you want to do to carry
on the vestiges of slavery, we’re going to say that’s okay
for you to do, and we’re going to actually give
you cover, right? One Justice dissented:
John Marshall Harlan. He stated, “Our
Constitution is colorblind. All citizens are
equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of
the most powerful.” Justice John Marshall Harlan got it right. When the Supreme Court speaks,
people can sort of put its pronouncements, its decision,
next to the actual Constitution as it’s written and say, wait
a minute, you guys and gals made that up. I never realized that my
great-great-grandfather was the judge in the infamous case
of Plessy v. Ferguson. He ruled against Homer Plessy. This is one of the three most
important civil rights cases in American legal history, and
we are descendants of it. Our foundation is a
flip on the script. As opposed to
Plessy v. Ferguson, we are Plessy and Ferguson. We’re dedicated to
identifying historic sites where African-American history
has occurred but not been recognized by the state. The Plessy v. Ferguson
case resulted in the United States Supreme
Court adopting Separate but Equal as the
law of the land.

Plessy v. Ferguson Case

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