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Section of Press Street to be renamed Homer Plessy Way

9th April 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing Writer

On April 5, the New Orleans City Council voted unanimously to rename a portion of Press Street to Homer Plessy Way, in honor of the civil rights icon.

Ordinance No. 32,206, sponsored by District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, renamed the portion of Press Street between Chartres Street and St. Claude Avenue as Homer Plessy Way to honor Plessy, a New Orleans native who fought segregation in the South in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The street is a boundary between the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. Press Street was originally named after the Levee Steam Cotton Press, established in 1831.

“The Homer Plessy decision was monumental in shaping the history of this country, and those brave Americans who fought bravely for equality deserve to be honored,” said Councilwoman Ramsey, who sponsored the ordinance. “With this dedication, the entire City of New Orleans and the millions of visitors who travel to this popular area of the city each year will remember Homer Plessy and his instrumental role as a civil rights pioneer.”

Plessy, a man of mixed race descent, was the plaintiff in the historic Plessy v. Ferguson case. In 1892, Plessy bought a ticket at the Press Street Depot and boarded a whites only car of the East Louisiana Railroad. He did so with the intent of challenging the unjust segregation laws in court. After being arrested for riding on the whites only car, Plessy argued that the segregation of trains denied him his rights under the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution.

The case found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Here, the Supreme Court upheld segregation and established the doctrine of “separate but equal.” One of the Supreme Court Justices who voted against Plessy was Louisiana’s Edward Douglass White. The only justice who sided with Plessy was Kentucky’s John Marshall Harlan.

The Plessy and Ferguson Foundation was started by Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, two descendants of Homer Plessy and John Howard Ferguson, the judge who first ruled against Plessy. The organization is dedicated to honoring the life of Plessy and reminding the public why his case is still relevant. Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson are delighted with the City Council’s vote.

“We are thrilled that this has become a reality,” said Phoebe Ferguson, executive director of the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation. “We feel this is another milestone educating the public about the legacy of Homer Plessy and the Citizens’ Committee…We are grateful to the City Council for recognizing the importance of naming this section of the street after him.”

Ferguson also praised the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) for their unending support of the cause. The street corner where Plessy was arrested is a part of NOCCA’s campus and there is a plaque paying tribute to Plessy on that site.

This article originally published in the April 9, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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