Through Collective Effort: Homer Plessy & the Comité des Citoyens

The Plessy Plaque at Press & Royal Streets

The Plessy Plaque at Press & Royal Streets

 

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.

Note the names of the Committee members.

Note the names of the Committee members.

 

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.

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/nominate-homer-plessy-recipient-medal-freedom-120-anniversary-case-may-18-2016

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.

Jari Honora

7 thoughts on “Through Collective Effort: Homer Plessy & the Comité des Citoyens

  1. I immediately signed the petition. Numa E. Mansion was my father Numa Rousseve Sr’s mother’s father. Thanks for this story, Jari, and for all the wonderful work you and CreoleGen do.

    • Numa, my father was Joseph Mansion, son of Henry A. We are the descendants of Joseph, Numa’s brother. We share the same lineage to “Lolo”. I been trying to get info on Lolo’s and Elizabeth’s lineage, do you know where I can find any info?
      Thank you

  2. Let’s get a Presidential Medal of Honor for all the men that were in that room & at that Meeting! I would love to go to Washington for that event!
    Being a “Martinet” I have a vested interest!
    Hippolyte Martinet was great, but Louis Andre Martinet was GIANT among Men!

  3. Thank you, Jari, for posting this history and letting folks know about the 120th anniversary of the case. Congressman Richmond is spearheading the effort to get the petition to President Obama. To see his letter to the president, go to http://www.plessyandferguson.org. If you are a relative of the Citizen’s Committee, you can send a letter to support Homer Plessy receiving the Medal of Freedom to Congressman Richmond. Mail to: Richmond.Schedule@mail.house.gov

  4. Hi, I am reading this in 2017. D.Trump is now president. Were you successful to have President Obama issue the commendation?
    If not, with the white racist groups marching in Virginia this could be an opportunity for the President to show he stands for equality. Presenting a commendation to Plessy may be acceptable right now. What do you think?

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