Select Page


In 1890 the Louisiana Legislature passed the Separate Car Act, which required railroads “to provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races” in order to protect the safety and comfort of all passengers. In 1891 in New Orleans, a group of African-American and Creole doctors, lawyers, and businessmen formed the “Citizens Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law.” The committee chose Homer Plessy, who was one-eighth black, to test the law by violating it. On June 7, 1892, he bought a first-class ticket on the East Louisiana Railway that traveled from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana. He boarded the train, walked past the coach clearly marked “For Coloreds Only,” and took a seat in the coach clearly marked “For Whites Only.” He informed the conductor of his racial background. When the train conductor asked Plessy to move to the other coach, he refused and was arrested. He was charged with violation of the Separate Car Law, tried in a Criminal District Court for the Parish of Orleans, found guilty, and sentenced to jail. He appealed his conviction to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which upheld the law and Plessy’s conviction. Plessy and his lawyers then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.