We As Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson / Edition 1

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Expanding his 1994 Smithsonian magazine
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Expanding his 1994 Smithsonian magazine article, Medley deftly puts in colorful context the U.S. Supreme Court's signal 1896 decision sanctioning so-called separate but equal facilities in public accommodations in what has been called apartheid American-style. His ten chapters transform the six-year Plessy v. Ferguson case from a century-old legal landmark into a resonant illustration of the remorseless racism that eroded the civil rights promises made by the United States during Reconstruction. Rich in family and community history and local lore, Medley's work details the world of New Orleans's free people of color, who produced and scripted the events, recruited the cast of players, and staged the dramatic challenge to segregation. An excellent complement to the scholarly works of Charles A. Lofgren, Otto H. Olsen, and Brook Thomas, this remarkable read is recommended for public and academic library collections on U.S., African American, and local history.-Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781589801202
  • Publisher: Pelican Publishing Company, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/28/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in New Orleans, Keith Weldon Medley grew up in the Faubourg Marigny not far from where Homer Plessy lived. He attended St. Augustine High School and graduated from Southern University at New Orleans with a BA in sociology and psychology. A two-time recipient of publication initiative grants from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, Medley has published articles in American Legacy, Louisiana Cultural Vistas, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and other periodicals. We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson is expanded from an article he wrote for Smithsonian. Medley is the author of Black Life in Old New Orleans, also published by Pelican.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 9
Chapter 1 A Negro Named Plessy 13
Chapter 2 John Howard Ferguson 37
Chapter 3 Albion W. Tourgee 53
Chapter 4 One Country, One People 67
Chapter 5 The Separate Car Act of 1890 89
Chapter 6 Who Will Bell the Cat? 111
Chapter 7 Are You a Colored Man? 139
Chapter 8 My Dear Martinet 169
Chapter 9 We as Freemen 185
Chapter 10 The Battle of Freedom 209
Appendix Further Reading 225
Notes 229
Index 243
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2003

    Dramatic story, well-told of the loss of human rights

    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. He describes the efforts of businessmen, lawyers, educators, and artisans to stop segregation from taking hold in the South. They conducted their campaign while the forces of reaction were regaining political control after the Civil War. The Comité aimed 'to obtain a United States Supreme Court ruling preventing states from abolishing the suffrage and equal access gains of the Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War.' Like the U.S. Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision, which barred slaves and their descendants from citizenship, the high court's decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson was demeaning and hurtful to millions of people. The high court decision in Plessy divided the population, causing widespread suffering. For this reason, it is useful to recall the dark side of Supreme Court history and to appreciate that the Justices are, for better or worse, political appointees who often press their own viewpoints, which tend also to represent the narrow views of the class of politicians who appoint them. In 1857 and again in 1896, the Supreme Court inflicted upon the public the views of Southern plantation owners and thuggish ideologues, a tiny but disproportionately powerful part of the population. In short order, the Comité 'formulated legal strategy while raising money from the neighborhoods of New Orleans, small towns throughout the South, and in cities as far away as Washington D.C. and San Francisco' and published their views in the African- American daily, The Crusader. Medley documents the heroic role of The Crusader in the battle for human rights in the humid South. The Comité held popular rallies, and did all anyone can do within democratic structures to organize resistance to the dark era of ignorance spreading through the legislatures, town halls and courtrooms controlled by rich white American men across the South. (Women would wait another generation to win the vote.) And, it would be more than five long decades before the wrongs of the high court's Plessy decision would be reversed, in part due to arguments put forward by then lawyer Thurgood Marshall to the high court sitting in 1954. Marshall argued the case in conjunction with the re-awakening across the land of the persistent struggle for Civil Rights. I particularly like that the author was able to locate photo

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2003

    The Important Story of the Movement Behind 'Plessy' is Finally Told

    WE ARE FREEMEN captures the imagination of the reader--from its wonderfully illustrated cover to the very end--and it just won't let go. It reveals much about the people, organizations, strategies, and tactics behind Plesy vs. Ferguson. Well-written. Well-documented. Well done!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2003

    Documenting Black Life in History

    We As Freeman' 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2010

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