chapter  12
16 Pages

The Case of the Almost-White Traveler

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)
WithMelvin I. Urofsky

Prior to the Civil War the inferior status of slaves had made it unnecessary to pass laws segregating them from white people. The Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment brought an end to slavery, but did not give the former bondsmen either legal or political equality. In fact, the Southern state almost immediately passed a series of laws known as “Black Codes,” which, if not enslaving the freedmen, severely restricted their freedoms and put them at the mercy of whites. Like many of the gens du couleur, Homer Adolphe Plessy could easily have passed for white, and he described himself as “seven-eighths Caucasian and one-eighth African blood,” which nonetheless made him colored under the terms of the Separate Car Act. In 1910 he became a collector for a black-owned insurance company, and continued to be active in the African American community’s benevolent and social organizations, such as the Societe des Francs-Amis and the Cosmopolitan Mutual Aid Association.