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Homer Plessy has been pardoned for arrest that led to 'separate but equal' ruling

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today in Louisiana, the governor granted a posthumous pardon to Homer Plessy. In 1892, Plessy, a Black man, refused to leave a whites-only train and was arrested. The eventual Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson, led to the separate but equal decision permitting decades of laws keeping Black people segregated. Bobbi-Jeanne Misick of the Gulf States Newsroom reports.

BOBBI-JEANNE MISICK, BYLINE: When Homer Plessy pushed back against his conviction, the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case didn't bring the change he and others had hoped for. Here's Southern University law professor Angela Allen-Bell.

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ANGELA ALLEN-BELL: Homer Plessy lost because the nation's commitment to white supremacy was greater than its commitment to the aims of reconstruction.

MISICK: At the pardoning ceremony, Allen-Bell told the audience that Plessy was an unremarkable man but one who was predestined to do the extraordinary. For Kyle Wedberg of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the location for the pardoning was important.

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KYLE WEDBERG: We are gathered in this place - specifically in this place - because place matters.

MISICK: They were standing right where Plessy purchased his train ticket that day and a few blocks from where he was arrested. Plessy's defiance came 60 years before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala.

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JOHN BEL EDWARDS: I, John Bel Edwards, governor of the state of Louisiana, do hereby grant a full posthumous pardon to Homer A. Plessy.

MISICK: Justice came thanks to a new Louisiana law that grants pardons to anyone convicted of violating a state law that enforced racial segregation. In the 1890s, the New Orleans district attorney brought the case against Plessy. It was the current DA, Jason Williams, who asked for the pardon. He said it wasn't because he thought Plessy needed forgiveness.

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JASON WILLIAMS: I submitted it, asking for us to be forgiven, the institution. And we must humbly ask for forgiveness for the role our legal institutions have played in the apartheid that the people of this country have endured.

MISICK: With those words, Plessy's slate was wiped clean. His descendant, Keith Plessy, stood behind the governor when the pardon was signed.

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KEITH PLESSY: I feel like my feet are not touching the ground today because the ancestors are carrying me.

MISICK: Plessy said today was important for his ancestors as well as the generations of people yet to be born.

For NPR News, I'm Bobbi-Jeanne Misick in New Orleans.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobbi-Jeanne Misick