1977 cartoon by John Churchill Chase, New Orleans Tribute.
Courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection

Plessy vs. Ferguson on KnowLA.org

On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy, a mixed-race Creole, purchased first-class rail fare for a journey between New Orleans and Covington, intentionally violating the 1890 Separate Car Act that forbade blacks from riding with whites in Louisiana.

Plessy, a shoemaker by trade and an early civil-rights activist by conviction, had volunteered to challenge segregation at the urging of the Comité des Citoyens, a group of influential black Creoles in New Orleans who had been pushing back against discriminatory laws following the Compromise of 1877, a political deal that effectively ended Reconstruction, and with it the hopes of African Americans for achieving equal rights under the U.S. Constitution. The 30-year-old agitator was arrested only a few blocks past the train station, and thus began a series of courtroom trials that culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court hearing of Plessy v. Ferguson on April 18, 1896.

One month later, the justices rendered a decision that would enact “separate but equal” as the law of the land for the next 58 years, reversed in 1954 with the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Read more about Louisiana’s long and complicated struggle with civil rights at KnowLA.org, the Digital Encyclopedia of Louisiana.