I'm Not Homer Plessy

pb.jpg

A lot of learned people, Professor Errare fans of course amongst them, know who the hell Homer Plessy was.  For those of you who might have forgotten, Homer Plessy was an early activist from the 1890's involved in efforts to end a Louisiana law requiring railroads to have separate passenger cars for blacks and whites.  Homer, as a 1/8 black man in a time when even that wasn't white enough for the racist asshats of the day, was the leading man in a plot cooked up by Civil Rights leaders and the owners of the railroads.  Basically, Homer got on a whites only passenger car, declared himself 1/8 black, and got his ass arrested.  While this might sound like a dumb plan, the end goal was to get the Supreme Court to declare such segregation illegal.  Thus setting a legal precedent for equality and saving the railroads a lot of money.  However, things backfired terribly when the Supreme Court instead ruled that segregation was a-okay, leading to decades of shitty policies that didn't end until the 1960's.  It's a pretty great story.  One that definitely earned Homer the right to be honored today.  You can almost see the light of defiance in his eyes in the above photograph.  There's just one little problem.  Despite what countless Google searches might claim, the man in the photograph isn't Homer Plessy.  

So who is the above dude?  Well my friends, that guy is actually the awesomely named Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, who we're just going to call PB for short.  What's that, you've never heard of Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback?  Well my friend, you better just sit your ass down and listen.  PB's father, William, was a plantation owner in Mississippi.  Though William already had a wife and family, he fell in love with one of his slaves, named Eliza, and the pair had six children.  Being somewhat progressive, at least for the time, William freed Eliza and treated her children just like the children born to his actual wife.  He even sent PB and one of his brothers to a private school.  This all came to an end when William died.  Eliza, fearing William's other wife might make her and her children slaves again, fled with them to Ohio.  

Though PB was only 1/4 black (his mother being 1/2 black), that was still too black for the racists of the time.  Despite this, PB did well for himself in Ohio.  When the Civil War broke out, he traveled south to New Orleans where he helped raise several companies of black soldiers to fight for the Union cause.  PB remained in New Orleans after the war, getting in involved in politics within a few years of the last shot being fired.  At the time the south was under Reconstruction policies, which guaranteed equal voting rights for all men regardless of race.  PB was elected to the Louisiana state Senate in 1868 and then became lieutenant governor in 1871 after the sudden death of his predecessor.  Following the impeachment of the governor the following year, he served as the first black governor in the United States for six weeks.  Throughout his political career, PB worked to improve the educational opportunities for black people.  He was unfortunately forced out of politics, as were many black politicians of the era, after the end of Reconstruction in the 1870's led to new laws disenfranchising most black voters.  However, he continued to work to improve things for the rest of his life.  In fact, he was one of the activists who set up the plan involving Homer Plessy.  

Okay, so now we know all of that, but what about the picture?  Why the hell is it that everyone thinks the picture of PB is actually a picture of Homer Plessy?  Well my friend, as with a lot of things wrong with the world, you can blame idiots on the internet.  Sometime in the early 2010's some numbskull mistakenly labeled a picture of PB as being one of Homer Plessy.  God only knows why, but it was probably a mixture of laziness and the fact that no pictures of Homer actually existed.  For whatever reason, this one mislabeling led to a second, which led to another, which so on and so forth has led to a state of affairs where literally hundreds of websites and even books contain the error.  In fact the mistake is so pervasive that people have been known to claim that the situation is the other way around, where people are mistaking a photo of Homer as a photo of PB.  The pinnacle of all this bullshit is the fact that in 2013 a sculptor created a statue of Homer for the Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis.  Guess which photo was used as the basis of the sculpture?  Just goes to show you, don't trust the internet.