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We As Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1589801202
ISBN-10: 1589801202
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson, Louisiana's famous Supreme Court case, established the separate-but-equal doctrine that prevailed in America until the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Homer Plessy's arrest in a New Orleans railway car was not mere happenstance, but the result of a carefully choreographed campaign of civil disobedience planned by the Comit� des Citoyens. This group of Republican free men of color had watched their rights disappear under the increasingly strict Jim Crow laws of the post-Reconstruction period. To contest these new restrictions, they arranged for Plessy, who could "pass" for white, to illegally seat himself in a whites-only carriage.

Keith Weldon Medley brings to life the players in this landmark trial, from the crusading black columnist Rodolphe Desdunes and the other members of the Comit� des Citoyens to Albion W. Tourgee, the outspoken writer who represented Plessy, to John Ferguson, a reformist carpetbagger who nonetheless found Plessy guilty. The U.S. Supreme Court sustained the finding, with only John Marshall Harlan, a Southern associate justice, voting against the decision.

Keith Weldon Medley was born in New Orleans and grew up in the Faubourg Marigny, not far from where Homer Plessy lived. He attended St. Augustine High School and graduated from Southern University in New Orleans with a B.A. in sociology and psychology. A two-time recipient of publication initiative grants from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Keith Weldon Medley has published articles in American Legacy, Louisiana Cultural Vistas, New Orleans Times-Picayune, and other periodicals. We as Freemen is expanded from an article Mr. Medley wrote for Smithsonian magazine.

From the Back Cover

"This absorbing narrative makes an important contribution to the literature on that notorious 1896 United States Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson."
-Journal of Southern History

"Medley's detailed history stands on its own as the most complete historical accounting of one of the Court's most infamous decisions."
-Law & Politics Book Review

In June 1892, Homer Plessy bought a first-class railway ticket from New Orleans to Covington. His trip had hardly begun when Plessy was arrested and removed from the train. Though Homer Plessy was born a free man of color and enjoyed relative equality while growing up in Reconstruction-era New Orleans, by 1890 he could no longer ride in the same carriage with white passengers. Plessy's act of civil disobedience was designed to test the constitutionality of the Separate Car Act, one of the many Jim Crow laws that threatened the freedoms gained by blacks after the Civil War. This largely forgotten case established segregation as the law of the land and prefigures both Rosa Parks' defiance of bus segregation in Alabama and the legal arguments of Brown v. Board of Education.

Jacket art by Louise Mouton Johnson

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Pelican Publishing (April 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1589801202
  • ISBN-13: 978-1589801202
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,007,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Britt on September 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Long before Rosa Parks refused the disrespectful order
to go to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama,
came Homer Plessy, the young shoemaker who knew he'd be
arrested for refusing to leave the "whites only" car on
the New Orleans railroad. He refused to go to the
segregated car in order to make the point that the law
was cruel and unjust. A federal case was made of it,
and in the end, the US Supreme Court made segregation
the law of the land for the next 53 years. The high
court ruled that "separate but equal" was fair and
equitable but history has proven there was nothing fair
nor equal about that decision. History also proves
there was no justice in that high court opinion and no
wisdom or sense of human rights residing with the
Justices who issued it.
In "We as Freemen," Keith Medley uncovers the rich and
intriguing history of the personalities who fought for
equality 30 years after the Civil war ended, but
generations before U.S. rulers ended legal
discrimination based on skin color. In carefully
crafted prose, the author is apparently the first
researcher to explore the character, mores and lives of
the long forgotten men of the Comité des Citoyen
(Committee of Citizens) who planned and carried out the
peaceful challenge to Louisiana's Separate Car Act of
1890. Homer Plessy did not suddenly challenge
segregation. In a story well-told, Medley turned up
primary research found in dusty nooks and crannies, and
church, library and cemetery logs around New Orleans,
which is his hometown.
Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Aldine on May 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book so much that I read it in about 6 hours. Medley provided tremendous insight that helped to explain the context in which the case unfolded. Oddly, the descendents of some of the players are still alive and well in Louisiana. Fortunately, so is the fight for equality and justice!
This book was the perfect read on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Charles Snider on October 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
We as Freemen describes details and history of Plessy vs. Ferguson that my history books had overlooked,,,and I was an American history student in college. We as Freemen is an effective lesson in race relations, legal history, Supreme Court history, Reconstruction history. The reader knows the outcome of Plessy vs. Ferguson case, but the book reads with a compelling story up to the fateful decision. The characters don't know what will happen, and Mr. Medley describes the Supreme Court changes that they must consider,,,you almost forget the historical outcome and keep reading to find out what happened. A scholarly read that I recommend to anyone who enjoys history or period books. With the pending changes at Supreme Court right now,,,this is surprisingly relevant right now.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. D. Moore on August 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"We As Freemen" is a book that reminds us that the names impressed on our court cases were people with professions, families and all of the messy problems of ordinary life. The author draws on original documentation to illustrate the pains of the free and newly free Black populace as they watched their liberties curtailed or removed entirely. It was interesting to read the precise legal choices of the Comite des Citoyens as they moved to ensure that the charges against Plessy be properly drawn (This was reminiscent of Taylor Branch's "Parting the Waters"). The text is clear and dramatic. It could easily serve both as a warning of how freedom is lost and as encouragement for anyone seeking a roadmap for change.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Renee L. Garza on October 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was surprised that this item was once owned by a library, I hope it wasn't a book that someone forgot to return. Other than that it is a very interesting book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you want to understand how all the civil rights gained by African Americans in the immediate post-Civil War era were stripped away by determined Southern Democrats, you have to read this book. It is primarily the story of how a 'test case' brought before the US Supreme Court back-fired and paved the way for the 'Jim Crow' oppression of Blacks for another fifty years. The author's style is engaging and the result is a real historical page turner.
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