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Homer's Odyssey to Equality
The Maundy Morning Newsletter - This Week in History June 6 - 12.
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From 1861 to 1865, the United States engaged in a bloody conflict over the right to enslave people. It was a cultural and economic battle. Over 620,000 men, two percent of the population, were lost, but the Union was saved, and slavery was no more. Thank you, Abraham Lincoln.
Immediately after the war, the United States government, led now by President Andrew Johnson, foolishly decided to allow the defeated Confederate states to choose their ways to govern themselves as they reentered the Union. Thanks, Andrew.
Fortunately, we have a thing called the Constitution, and between 1864-1870, we passed and ratified three amendments that would help shape the Reconstruction era. In a sweeping change, we ended slavery (13th), outlined citizenship rights and equal protection (14th), and sprinkled some voting rights protection (15th) before serving it to a country that wasn't entirely behind the idea.
Instead of unifying everyone, former confederate states sought ways to circumvent the new laws.
In Louisiana, freemen enjoyed the spoils of a new life. They owned land and worked as blacksmiths, carpenters, and other trade laborers. Interracial marriage was legal, schools were integrated, and in 1868, black men could vote so long as they could pay a poll tax.
These civil rights achievements came under the watchful eye of Federal troops stationed throughout the South to protect the civil rights of black people. However, in 1877, the soldiers were pulled, and just as quickly, the state of Louisiana ripped away their rights. Jim Crow laws swept through the South, acting to disenfranchise blacks and keep whites in power.
Homer Plessy was born to a family of Creole descendants in the French-speaking part of New Orleans in 1862. His family was politically active, fighting against the Louisiana legislature's recent changes, namely defunding public schools for black children. A group of white, Creole and black people formed a civil rights organization called the Comite des Cioyens (Citizens Committee).
In 1890, the state passed the Separate Car Act. It did what the name said, placing whites and blacks in separate accommodations on train cars. The Comite des Cioyens put together a scheme to challenge the law and recruited Plessy to expedite the fight.
On a hot, sticky Louisiana summer day, June 7, 1892, Plessy purchased a first-class train ticket and proceeded to the all-whites section. Plessy could pass for white but was asked by the conductor if he was a colored man. Plessy answered in the affirmative, and when he refused to leave the car, he was forcibly removed.
Arraigned by Judge John Howard Ferguson, Plessy's lawyer argued that the Separate Car Act violated the 13th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution. Ferguson disagreed, saying that states could pass moronic racist laws within their borders. The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed in December 1892.
Four years later, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling in Plessy vs. Ferguson on a 7-1 vote. The majority opinion stated that if blacks thought the laws discriminated, it's only because they chose to think of it that way.
What on earth.
The separate but equal application of laws would be the standard throughout the country until 1954, when the court decided Brown vs. The Board of Education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed Jim Crow permanently.
In January 2022, Louisiana's governor pardoned Plessy. Thanks, Gov.
Okay, let's highlight what else happened this week. Here's what I got:
President George W. Bush proposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security on June 6, 2002. Nine months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Bush and strong Congressional support outlined plans to unify the nation's twenty-two security programs. Legislation passed in November of that year, and before you can say, "What about gun control?" DHS came into existence.
Herman Hollerith patented his punch card calculator on June 7, 1887. The statistician genius used his magical math machine to collect and process a lot of data for the 1890 census. His company would eventually become International Business Machine Corporation (IBM). The guy is buried up the street from me. I need to visit.
Seattle Slew won the Belmont Stakes on June 11, 1977. The thoroughbred dashed to sports history with his Triple Crown win. Seattle Slew was the first horse to go undefeated, finishing first on the muddy Belmont track. The second was Justify, who won the Triple Crown in 2018 and is a decedent.
I can report that Top Gun: Maverick is a solid summer movie. If you can suspend the belief that Tom Cruise is a normal-sized man, you should have no issues with suspending reality regarding the plot or how these characters operate their aircraft.
Admittedly, I'm in love with Jennifer Connelly, and there's nothing I can do about that. I didn't realize she was starring in this film, and her addition as Maverick's love interest was a welcomed surprise. I won't ruin the plot details, but I learned that after watching the movie that her character is mentioned in the original film. Twice. Thanks, Eric.
It's in-person work conference week for me. Two days of learning about gift planning and one day learning about the 400 or so of the new colleagues my team has hired over the past two years. Please suspend your belief in the number 400.
A Reader's Request is coming on Friday. Have a great week. Cheers!