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Monday, June 6, 2011

Plessy and Ferguson: Descendants of a divisive Supreme Court decision unite


( Ted Jackson / TIMES-PICAYUNE ) - Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson stand on the tracks in New Orleans at Royal and Press streets, where Homer Plessy was arrested on June 7, 1892.

NEW ORLEANS
When Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson decided to start a new civil rights education organization that would bear their famous names, they sealed the deal in a fitting local spot: Cafe Reconcile.
They represent the opposing principals in one of the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions, Plessy v. Ferguson , which upheld the constitutionality of Jim Crow laws mandating segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine. It stood from 1896 until the court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954.

The descendent of the man who tested Louisiana’s law requiring separate railroad cars for whites and blacks and the great-great-granddaughter of the judge who upheld it met in 2004.
The truth is, no reconciliation was required.
“The first thing I said to her,” recalled Plessy, “was, ‘Hey, it’s no longer Plessyversus Ferguson. It’s Plessy and Ferguson.’ ”
Her first reaction was to apologize.
“I don’t know why,” she said in an interview. “It’s just that I felt the burden of it, this great injustice.”
Plessy’s response?
“I said, ‘You weren’t alive during that time. I wasn’t either. It’s time for us to change that whole image.’ ”
So the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation was born, and on Tuesday it will celebrate another anniversary of Homer Adolph Plessy’s decision to buy a railroad ticket for the June 7, 1892, train trip from New Orleans to Covington, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain.

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