History is Not Dead! A guest post by Amy Nathan
News Flash! Breaking News! History is not dead! Past events can be revisited, responded to—and sometimes even revised—as revealed in the new Second Edition of TOGETHER: An Inspiring Response to the “Separate-But-Equal” Supreme Court Decision that Divided America. This book describes a historical correction made in 2022 to right a wrong committed more than 125 years ago: the arrest of Homer Plessy.
His arrest in 1892 for sitting in a New Orleans train car for white riders led to the 1896 Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson. He was in that train car as part of a campaign by brave citizens to challenge the constitutionality of Louisiana’s 1890 train segregation law. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of that law. This led to Homer Plessy having to plead guilty and pay a $25 fine (which would be like paying $900 now) for having broken that law in order to avoid spending time in jail. Fifty-eight years later, the Supreme Court changed its mind about segregation, ruling in 1954 that segregation should not be allowed in schools. Within ten years, segregation was outlawed everywhere. But no officials remembered to apologize to Homer Plessy.
On January 5, 2022, Louisiana’s governor remembered. He signed a pardon for Homer Plessy’s “unjust criminal conviction.” At the pardon-signing ceremony, the District Attorney for New Orelans declared: “Homer Plessy was no criminal. He was then, and is now, a hero.” He added, “My predecessor should not have prosecuted Homer Plessy.” This victory happened a year after the first edition of TOGETHER was published and thus the need for a Second Edition to tell the full story of Homer Plessy’s quest for justice.
The book presents another historical twist. Descendants of the opposite sides in the Plessy v. Ferguson court case led the effort to win that pardon: Keith Plessy, whose great-grandfather was Homer Plessy’s cousin, and Phoebe Ferguson, whose great-great-grandfather was the white judge who first ruled on Homer Plessy’s case. TOGETHER intertwines the history of that 1896 court case with the personal stories of how these descendants learned of their connection to it and started the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation in 2009. They aim to help people learn about the damage that court decision caused when it ushered in decades of Jim Crow segregation, hoping that learning this history will inspire people to work toward creating a more just future.
There’s another historical twist in this book. As a child, Keith Plessy hated history. “Every time the subject of history came up in class, I would draw pictures,” he explained. That was partly because he loved to draw. It was also because he felt he wasn’t being told the whole story of “why people who were considered to be ‘white’ got better treatment than others,” he said. It wasn’t until he was in his late thirties when he met Keith Weldon Medley, author of a book about Homer Plessy—We as Freemen—that he learned about the true meaning of his ancestor’s heroism. “Now, I can’t forget anything I hear about history. It has become a part of me,” he explained. The same is true for Phoebe Ferguson, who says in TOGETHER: “We cannot undo the wrongs of the past, but we can and should acknowledge them and learn from them.”
Meet the author
AMY NATHAN is an award-winning author of more than a dozen nonfiction books for adults and young people. Her most recent are TOGETHER and a picture book, A Ride to Remember, co-authored with Sharon Langley, on the civil rights history of the Carousel on the National Mall. A Harvard graduate with master’s degrees in education, Nathan has also written books on women’s history, music, and dance. www.AmyNathanBooks.com.
About Together, 2nd Edition: An Inspiring Response to the “Separate-But-Equal” Supreme Court Decision that Divided America
The inspiring story of how Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, descendants of key figures in the infamous Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, havecome together to fight for racial equality.
Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson were both born in New Orleans in 1957. Sixty-five years earlier, in 1892, a member of each of their families met in a Louisiana courtroom when Judge John Howard Ferguson found that Homer Plessy could be charged with breaking the law by sitting in a train car for white passengers. The case of Plessy v. Ferguson went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that “separate-but-equal” was constitutional, sparking decades of unjust laws and discriminatory attitudes.
In Together, Amy Nathan threads the personal stories of Keith and Phoebe into the larger history of the Plessy v. Ferguson case, race relations, and civil rights movements in New Orleans and throughout the U.S. This second edition includes a new epilogue describing a triumph that occurred a year after the first edition was published. In 2022, the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation, which was created by Keith and Phoebe in 2009 to change the legacy of the case that links their families, worked with a legal team and won a posthumous pardon for Homer Plessy.
Includes black and white photos throughout.
Publisher: Dry, Paul Books, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/06/2023
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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