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Friday, June 6, 2008

Homer Plessy Day

Posted By on Fri, Jun 6, 2008 at 7:36 PM

Two local high schools commemorate Homer Plessy Day on Saturday, June 7. The celebration marks the anniversary of Plessy’s arrest in 1892, leading to the landmark Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that established “separate but equal” laws. In the end, Plessy lost his case when the Supreme Court upheld Louisiana’s ruling. After losing at the local, state and national levels between 1892 and 1896, a legal foundation for segregating schools and other facilities had been established and would be maintained in the United States for more than 50 years. The decision was reversed in 1954 by the Brown vs. Board of Education case.

The Plessy celebration is scheduled to begin at Frederick Douglass High School at 10 a.m. There will be a tour of the facilities led by some of its students and a presentation of two plaques on the school’s campus one of which commemorates the Plessy vs. Ferguson case, the other, the Citizens’ Committee formed in 1891 in response to the Louisiana Separate Car Act. Afterward, the group of participants and guests will walk to the corner of Press St. & Royal St., which is a reserved memorial space that was included in a recent land purchase by NOCCA Institute. It is at this location that students will present workshop creations they made with the assistance of students from the Los Angeles’ MFA Public program at Otis College of Art & Design and an open discussion.

NOCCA, with its direct interest in preserving the history of the arrest site, rallied with other organizations in what its Associate Development Director, Jackson Knowles, referred to as a “collective effort” to structure a community-based event in tribute to Homer Plessy Day. Other contributors include students from Xavier University, Reggie Lawson of the Crescent City Peace Alliance, and Transforma Projects. Transforma Projects is a group of artists and other creative professionals that use art as a positive influence in the rebuilding of post-Katrina New Orleans. “It’s really an event to coalesce,” said Jess Garz of Transforma Projects. She went on to explain that this was really a great opportunity for any and everyone to get whatever thoughts they may have out in the open. The anniversary of Plessy’s arrest will serve as a catalyst for a public discussion on both social and political issues in today’s community.

A New Orleans native and fair-skinned Creole, Plessy moved with his wife in 1889 to Faubourg Treme, one of the main neighborhoods of free people of color. After becoming a member of the Citizens’ Committee of African Americans and Creoles, he was asked to deliberately violate the Louisiana Separate Car Act of 1891 by purchasing a first-class train ticket, sitting in the “whites-only” car, and refusing to move when ordered by the conductor to do so. In court, Plessy’s New York attorney argued that Louisiana had violated his client’s 13th and 14th Amendment rights. -- Shantrell A. Cook

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