RACISM + HISTORY
How A Creole Man Became the Test Case For Racial Segregation
Remembering Homère Plessy's bravery in challenging the color barrier
Are you Black, White, or Creole? Those are the questions you might still hear if you come to New Orleans, the city Homère Plessy called home in the mid-1800s. Throughout history, mixed-race people in Louisiana were kept to the same sociopolitical level as Black people, even if they could pass the Brown Paper Bag Test.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the United States tried to turn over a new leaf, and during this period of Reconstruction, Congress passed The Civil Rights Act of 1866. It was still a racist bill for how it treated Indigenous people but did guarantee, "All persons born in the United States (except Indians) as national citizens entitled to the protection of all rights belonging to citizens."
Creole was a status separate from Black but not respected by White Southerners, many of whom called themselves Redeemers. Salty after losing the Civil War to the North, White people wanted to regain power by any means necessary. Homère Plessy was a toddler when the Civil War ended. Still, as 1/8th of a Black man, he had aspirations, as many Creole people did in New Orleans, that they could one day receive equal treatment for themselves, and more recognizably, Black people.
By today's standards, Homère Plessy may not seem like a Black man. While there are no official pictures of him, he may have been very light-skinned. Still, because his great-grandmother was from Africa, his life became marred with discrimination. His circumstances show the persistence of the one-drop rule, even more, stringent than the Brown Paper Bag Test. Being light-skinned did not save him from racial discrimination because White people looked for any sign of Black features to distinguish Black and White people.
During his life, interracial relationships were against the law. Plessy's very existence as a Creole, Black man, put him at odds in a White-dominated system. It made sense for a Creole man to become a case study in racial segregation because if they could not accept a fair-skinned Black man, then Louisianans and Americans would not be ready to accept anyone of a darker hue…