ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes

   

Home  ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)  

Google
 

 

Keith Weldon Medley brings to life the players in this landmark trial, from the crusading

 black columnist Rodolphe Desdunes and the other members of the Comité des Citoyens

to Albion W. Tourgee, the outspoken writer who represented Plessy

 

 

We as Freemen

Plessy v. Ferguson

By Keith Medley

 

Reviews

 

 

In June 1892, a thirty-year-old shoemaker named Homer Plessy [1863-1925] bought a first-class railway ticket from his native New Orleans to Covington, north of Lake Pontchartrain. The two-hour trip had hardly begun when Plessy was arrested and removed from the train. Though Homer Plessy was born a free man of color and enjoyed relative equality while growing up in Reconstruction-era New Orleans, by 1890 he could no longer ride in the same carriage with white passengers. Plessy’s act of civil disobedience was designed to test the constitutionality of the Separate Car Act, one of the many Jim Crow laws that threatened the freedoms gained by blacks after the Civil War. This largely forgotten case mandated separate-but-equal treatment and established segregation as the law of the land. It would be fifty-eight years before this ruling was reversed by Brown v. Board of Education. Hardcover.Publisher

 

In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson, Louisiana's famous Supreme Court Case, established the separate-but-equal doctrine that prevailed in America until the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Homer Plessy's arrest in a New Orleans railway car was not mere happenstance, but the result of a carefully choreographed campaign of civil disobedience planned by the Comité des Citoyens. this group of Republican free men of color had watched their rights disappear under the increasingly strict Jim Crow laws of the post-Reconstruction period. To contest these new restrictions, they arranged for Plessy, who could "pass" for white, to illegally seat himself in a whites-only carriage.

Keith Weldon Medley brings to life the players in this landmark trial, from the crusading black columnist Rodolphe Desdunes and the other members of the Comité des Citoyens to Albion W. Tourgee, the outspoken writer who represented Plessy, to John Ferguson, a reformist carpetbagger who nonetheless found Plessy guilty. The U.S. Supreme Court sustained the finding, with only John Marshall Harlan, a Southern associate justice, voting against the decision.Publisher

 

Expanding his 1994 Smithsonian magazine article, Medley deftly puts in colorful context the U.S. Supreme Court's signal 1896 decision sanctioning so-called separate but equal facilities in public accommodations in what has been called apartheid American-style. His ten chapters transform the six-year Plessy v. Ferguson case from a century-old legal landmark into a resonant illustration of the remorseless racism that eroded the civil rights promises made by the United States during Reconstruction.

 

Rich in family and community history and local lore, Medley's work details the world of New Orleans's free people of color, who produced and scripted the events, recruited the cast of players, and staged the dramatic challenge to segregation. An excellent complement to the scholarly works of Charles A. Lofgren, Otto H. Olson, and Brook Thomas, this remarkable read is recommended for public and academic library collections on U.S., African American, and local history.Library Journal, Thomas  J. Davis (Arizona State University)

 

*   *   *   *   *

1896 Case Set the Tone for Change

By Lolis Eric Elie

 

In the view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. our Constitution is color blind and neither knows not tolerates classes among citizens. -- Plessy v Ferguson, 1896, Statement by John Marshall Harlan, dissenting Supreme Court Justice

 

Keith Weldon medley started his research about Homer Plessy [1863-1925] with the same assumptions that many people hold about the famous plaintiff. Even a century after the Treme resident tested the doctrine of separate but equal in an 1896 Supreme Court case. Plessy is still misunderstood.

"I just assumed that Homer Plessy was someone on the train passing for white, and when he got caught, he got a lawyer," said medley, author of the new book We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson. "I realize now it was a very meticulously planned civil disobedience action."

Plessy's protest was sparked by the 1890 passage of the Louisiana separate car law, which mandated segregation in railroad transit. It was planned with the urging of state Sen. Murphy Foster, the grandfather of our current governor. "He was angry at black legislators for supporting the state lottery," Medley said. "As revenge for that, he got the separate car act passed."

In response, the black community formed the Comité des Citoyens, or Citizens Committee, and set out about fighting the racist law. members had cooperation from some unlikely allies. "They hired the detective to arrest Plessy so that they could get him charged with the right thing," Medley said.

They also obtained the cooperation of the railroad, because Plessy was light-skinned enough to pass for a white person, so the conductor might have had difficulty identifying him. "The railroads did not like this law because of the expense," Medley said. "Theoretically, if one black person showed up, they would have to set up a whole other car."

The Plessy case is the most famous example of the work of the Citizens Committee, but it was engaged in other activities as well.

"The Citizens Committee also put out a newspaper called the Crusader," Medley said. "It was the only black daily in the country and the only Republican newspaper in the South."

The group also fought for Jim Murray, a black man accused of killing a white prison guard. In his 1896 case, Murray v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court decided that African-Americans could not be jurors. But ultimately the ideals put forth by Plessy and Murray prevailed in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation in schools. "The NAACP lawyers in that case used many of the same arguments that Plessy and his lawyers had used in their case," Medley said.

Source: The Times-Picayune (16 May 2003)

We as Freeman: Plessy v. Freemen is published by Pelican Publishing Company, P.O. Box 3110, Gretna, LA 70054 / 1-504-368-1175 / Fax: 1-504-368-1195 / 1-800-843-1724 or 1888-5PELICAN

www.pelicanpub.com

*   *   *   *   *

Homer Plessy was born on St. Patrick's Day in 1863. His middle name on the birth record reflects the patron saint of his natal day but later records show his middle name as either Adolph or the French equivalent, Adolphe, after his father. Homer's grandfather, Germain Plessy, died the month after his birth. . . .

Home Plessy died in 1925. His obituary was simple: "Plessy--on Sunday, March 1, 1925, at 5:10 a.m. beloved husband of Louise Bordenave." He was buried in the Debergue-Blanco family tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1.

Source: We as Freemen, pp. 24; 218

Homer Plessy was a "Creole" who was 7/8 white and 1/8 black.  In deciding whether Mr. Plessy could be subjected to the indignities of segregated travel, the Supreme Court of the United States found that “separate but equal” was not a violation of constitutional law.

Plessy v Ferguson (decided in 1886) remained the law in America for decades
until a 1946 case, called Morgan v Virginia, reached the Supreme Court. In that matter, the Court found that states could not require segregated transportation when the mode of travel crossed state lines:

 

As no state law can reach beyond its own border nor bar transportation of passengers across its boundaries, diverse seating requirements for the races in interstate journeys result. As there is no federal act dealing with the separation of races in interstate transportation, we must decide the validity of this Virginia statute on the challenge that it interferes with commerce, as a matter of balance between the exercise of the local police power and the need for national uniformity in the regulations for interstate travel. It seems clear to us that seating arrangements for the different races in interstate motor travel require a single, uniform rule to promote and protect national travel. Consequently, we hold the Virginia statute in controversy invalid.

Even though the court’s ruling was helpful (in a theoretical sense), it had no meaningful impact.  Since the Justices did not find all segregated transportation to be unconstitutional, various states could still allow segregated transportation within their own borders. 

Forcing people of color to sit in the back of railroad cars, buses and other forms of travel did not end until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.awesomestories

*   *   *   *   *

Homer Plessy (March 17, 1862 – March 1, 1925) was the American plaintiff in the United States Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. Arrested, tried and convicted in New Orleans of a violation of one of Louisiana's racial segregation laws, he appealed through Louisiana state courts to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost. The resulting "separate-but-equal" decision against him had wide consequences for civil rights in the United States. The decision legalized state-mandated segregation anywhere in the United States so long as the facilities provided for both blacks and whites were putatively "equal".

Plessy was born on St. Patrick's Day in 1862, when federal occupation troops under General Benjamin Franklin Butler had liberated African Americans in New Orleans. Blacks could then marry whomever they chose, sit in any streetcar seat, and attend, briefly, integrated schools.

As an adult, Plessy found that those gains from the period of federal occupation during the American Civil War (1862-1865) and the Reconstruction era had been abolished after troops were withdrawn in 1877 on orders of U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes.[2]

On any other day in 1892, Plessy with his pale skin color could have ridden in the train car restricted to white passengers without notice. He was classified "7/8 white" or an octoroon according to the language of the time. Although it is often interpreted as Plessy had only one great grandmother of African descent, both of his parents are identified as free persons of color on his birth certificate. The racial categorization is based on appearance rather than genealogy.—wikipedia

*   *   *   *   *

 

Keith Weldon Medley was born in New Orleans and grew up in the Faubourg Marigny, not far from where Homer Plessy lived. He attended St. Augustine High School and graduated from Southern University in New Orleans with a B.A. in sociology and psychology. A two-time recipient of publication initiative grants (2001 and 2002) from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Keith Weldon Medley has published articles in American Legacy, Louisiana Cultural Vistas, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Historic Preservation, New World Outlook, Atlanta Tribune, Facing South, Amistad Guide to Arc Light, The New Orleans Tribune, NSBE Journal, Southern Exposure, Preservation in Print and other periodicals. We as Freemen is expanded from an article Mr. Medley wrote for Smithsonian.

His essay on the Mardi Gras Indians appeared in the catalogue that accompanies The Ties That Bind: Making Faking Family New Orleans Style,  a photography exhibit underwritten by the Annie Casey Foundation. He is also a licensed tour guide for the City of New Orleans. The Forbes publication, American Legacy, featured a summer travel issue in 2000 with a cover story by Medley on sites of historical interest in New Orleans. In the year 2000, he gave a presentation and tour for members of the American Association for State and Local Historians who convened in New Orleans.

Medley has written a great deal on the New Orleans origins of the Plessy v. Ferguson. He authored the text of "When the Future Became the Past," a Tulane University and Louisiana State Museum touring exhibit that chronicles this pivotal United States Supreme Court case. During the 1996 centennial of the case, an interview of Medley by Scott Simon was broadcast on national Public Radio's "All Things considered." He was also featured on Louisiana's Public Broadcasting's popular show Louisiana: "The State We're In" and was interviewed in WDSU-TV's special report by Norman Robinson entitled "Bound for Freedom."

In addition, articles by Medley on the case appeared in Louisiana Cultural Vistas, Times-Picayune, and as a cover story in The New Orleans Tribune. His Smithsonian magazine article on the case has been reprinted in a number of textbooks and resource guides including Conflict, Confidence, and Power edited by Mary Framer-Kaiser; The Way We Lived: Essays and Documents in American Social History by Frederick M. Binder and David M. Reimers; Readings for U.S. History by Dr. Michael A. White; and the 1994 Social Issues Research Series.

As a photographer, Medley's work has appeared in Smithsonian magazine, American Legacy, The New Orleans Tribune, and the front cover of Callaloo #20, and also the front cover of In These Houses by Brenda Marie Osbey. He has also contributed photographs to American Poetry Review and Welcome! A Guide for Black Tourists in new Orleans. Medley's photographs are also part of the New Orleans Public Library's regional photographers collection.

Medley is a member of the Friends of New Orleans Cemeteries, Preservation Resource Center, Friends of the Amistad Research Center, and Friends of Bishop Perry Middle School.

Photo above right: Mardi Gras Indian (source: cover of American Legacy, Summer 2000)

*   *   *   *   *

AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

The Fiery Trial

Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

By Eric Foner

A mixture of visionary progressivism and repugnant racism, Abraham Lincoln's attitude toward slavery is the most troubling aspect of his public life, one that gets a probing assessment in this study. Columbia historian and Bancroft Prize winner Foner (Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men) traces the complexities of Lincoln's evolving ideas about slavery and African-Americans: while he detested slavery, he also publicly rejected political and social equality for blacks, dragged his feet (critics charged) on emancipating slaves and accepting black recruits into the Union army, and floated schemes for colonizing freedmen overseas almost to war's end. Foner situates this record within a lucid, nuanced discussion of the era's turbulent racial politics; in his account Lincoln is a canny operator, cautiously navigating the racist attitudes of Northern whites, proddedand sometimes willing to be proddedby abolitionists and racial egalitarians pressing faster reforms.

But as Foner tells it, Lincoln also embodies a society-wide transformation in consciousness, as the war's upheavals and the dynamic new roles played by African-Americans made previously unthinkable claims of freedom and equality seem inevitable. Lincoln is no paragon in Foner's searching portrait, but something more essential--a politician with an open mind and a restless conscience. 16 pages of illus., 3 maps.—Publishers Weekly

*   *   *   *   *

Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America.

This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

*   *   *   *   *

Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

*   *   *   *   *

We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson

By Keith Medley

In June 1892, a thirty-year-old shoemaker named Homer Plessy [1863-1925] bought a first-class railway ticket from his native New Orleans to Covington, north of Lake Pontchartrain. The two-hour trip had hardly begun when Plessy was arrested and removed from the train. Though Homer Plessy was born a free man of color and enjoyed relative equality while growing up in Reconstruction-era New Orleans, by 1890 he could no longer ride in the same carriage with white passengers. Plessy’s act of civil disobedience was designed to test the constitutionality of the Separate Car Act, one of the many Jim Crow laws that threatened the freedoms gained by blacks after the Civil War. This largely forgotten case mandated separate-but-equal treatment and established segregation as the law of the land. It would be fifty-eight years before this ruling was reversed by Brown v. Board of Education. Hardcover.

In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson, Louisiana's famous Supreme Court Case, established the separate-but-equal doctrine that prevailed in America until the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Homer Plessy's arrest in a New Orleans railway car was not mere happenstance, but the result of a carefully choreographed campaign of civil disobedience planned . . . Publisher

*   *   *   *   *

To the Mountaintop

My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement

By Charlayne Hunter-Gault

A personal history of the civil rights movement from activist and acclaimed journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault. On January 20, 2009, 1.8 million people crowded the grounds of the Capitol to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. Among the masses was Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She had flown from South Africa for the occasion, to witness what was for many the culmination of the long struggle for civil rights in the United States. In this compelling personal history, she uses the event to look back on her own involvement in the civil rights movement, as one of two black students who forced the University of Georgia to integrate, and to relate the pivotal events that swept the South as the movement gathered momentum through the early 1960s. With poignant black-and-white photos, original articles from the New York Times, and a unique personal viewpoint, this is a moving tribute to the men and women on whose shoulders Obama stood.

*   *   *   *   *

The River of No Return

The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC

By Cleveland Sellers with Robert Terrell

Among histories of the civil rights movement of the 1960s there are few personal narratives better than this one. Besides being an insider's account of the rise and fall of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, it is an eyewitness report of the strategies and the conflicts in the crucial battle zones as the fight for racial justice raged across the South.  This memoir by Cleveland Sellers, a SNCC volunteer, traces his zealous commitment to activism from the time of the sit-ins, demonstrations, and freedom rides in the early '60s. In a narrative encompassing the Mississippi Freedom Summer (1964), the historic march in Selma, the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, and the murders of civil rights activists in Mississippi, he recounts the turbulent history of SNCC and tells the powerful story of his own no-return dedication to the cause of civil rights and social change.

The River of No Return is acclaimed as a book that is destined to become a standard text for those wishing to perceive the civil rights struggle from within the ranks of one of its key organizations and to note the divisive history of the movement as groups striving for common goals were embroiled in conflict and controversy.

*   *   *   *   *

A Matter Of Law: A Memoir Of Struggle in the Cause Of Equal Rights

By Robert L. Carter and Foreword by John Hope Franklin

Robert Lee Carter (March 11, 1917 – January 3, 2012) insisted on using the research of the psychologist Kenneth B. Clark to attack segregated schools, a daring courtroom tactic in the eyes of some civil rights lawyers. Experiments by Mr. Clark and his wife, Mamie, showed that black children suffered in their learning and development by being segregated. Mr. Clark’s testimony proved crucial in persuading the court to act, Mr. Carter wrote in a 2004 book, “A Matter of Law: A Memoir of Struggle in the Cause of Equal Rights.” As chief deputy to the imposing Mr. Marshall, who was to become the first black Supreme Court justice, Mr. Carter labored for years in his shadow.

In the privacy of legal conferences, Mr. Carter was seen as the house radical, always urging his colleagues to push legal and constitutional positions to the limits. He recalled that Mr. Marshall had encouraged him to play the gadfly: “I was younger and more radical than many of the people Thurgood would have in, I guess. But he’d never let them shut me up.” Robert Lee Carter was born in Caryville, in the Florida Panhandle . . . . NYTimes   Oral History  Archive   / Pedagogical Uses of African Histories  /  Dedication to Human Rights and Human Kindness

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues


1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        

Enjoy!

*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)

 

update 129 July 2012

 

 

 

Home  TableEdHistNegro  The Constitution and the Negro Table  Civil Rights: Struggle for Black Power

Related files: Dred Scott Case   We as Freemen Reviews  Seat of Honor -- Homer Plessy  Dred Scott Case    Emancipation Proclamation  Plessy v Ferguson Court 

Teaching Dred Scott Decision  Plessy v Ferguson Court