On September 1, 1891, eighteen men of color responded to the call of the Republican stalwart and capitalist, Aristide Mary, and gathered in the offices of The Crusader, a newspaper published by physician and attorney Louis A. Martinet. The men were in agreement in their opposition to the odious Separate Car Act which the Louisiana Legislature of 1890 enacted. By September 5, the Comité des Citoyens, as the group dubbed itself, had drafted and issued an appeal making clear their intentions for a “definite effort to resist legally the operation of the Separate Car Act.” They called upon the citizenry of the city, state, and nation to give their “moral sanction and financial aid” to the cause. Their appeals met with success – scores of benevolent and social organizations, churches, labor groups, and fraternal lodges contributed to the Comité des Citoyens.
Through collective effort, they planned and executed the famed test case of June 7, 1892, centering around a young shoemaker named Homère Adolphe Plessy (1863-1925). Plessy was a descendant of several Creole families, including the Plessy, Debergue, and Mathieu families. In what was a well-planned act of disobedience, on that morning, Plessy boarded a first-class and thus “whites only” car on the East Louisiana Railroad Line bound for Covington, on the northshore of Lake Pontchartrain. Amid requests to retire to a “colored” car, Plessy asserted that he had paid for his right to ride and thus refused to leave. His forced ejection and arrest launched four years of litigation that would culminate on May 18, 1896 with the ruling of U. S. Supreme Court that “Jim Crow” legislation such as the Separate Car Act was constitutional, giving rise to the “Separate but Equal” doctrine.
Just as the Comité des Citoyens demonstrated what could be achieved through collective efforts then, the leaders of the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation have launched an effort to have the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously conferred upon Homère Adolphe Plessy in 2016, some 120 years after the fateful Plessy v. Ferguson decision. The readership of CreoleGen is strongly encouraged to sign the online petition which is being circulated. Obtaining 100,000 signatures will be an impressive component of the effort when presented to the White House.
Visit the White House website at the link below to sign the official petition to gain this deserved recognition for Civil Rights activist and New Orleans Creole, Homère Adolphe Plessy.
For more information on Homere Adolphe Plessy and the Comité des Citoyens, see Keith Weldon Medley’s We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson, published in 2003 (paperback in 2012) by Pelican Publishing Company. For more information on the Plessy v. Ferguson Foundation visit: www.plessyandferguson.org.