12 April 2011
Plessy v. Ferguson
In 1892, Homer Plessy, a man of 1/8th African descent, bought a first class ticket and boarded a train traveling within Louisiana. Upon discovery of his mixed heritage, the conductor ordered him to move to the designated colored car. He was arrested when he refused to move; a violation of The Separate Car Act which required separate but equal accommodations for African Americans and Whites on railroads. Thus began the fight against the idea of separate but equal. Plessy was the perfect man for this social experiment because he was so light skinned he could have passed as white. This the entire operation was choreographed and each person involved had his role in bringing the case all the way to the Supreme Court. The Citizen’s Committee and Plessy’s attorny, Albion Tourgée knew it would be hard for the judges not to sympathy with Plessy because he looked like them. In Soul by Soul, Walter Johnson discussed that many people would not purchase light skinned slaves because it blurred the distinction between servant and master. This was also a time when there was much abolitionist work about the country. Poems like The Quadroon Girl brought the idea that other people from well off families, who looked very much like a white American, can be forced into, at best, the black caste, and at worse, slavery. The same line of thought can be applied to this case. The idea was that people would look at Plessy and think if it happened to him, he can happen to any of them also.
The 13th Amendment states that “Neither slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any other place subjected to their jurisdiction”. This amendment abolishes slavery and all of its rules about persons and property. In Tourgée’s argument, this amendment was violated because by making Plessy move to a separate car,...
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