LSU Health New Orleans Newsroom

Murray Made Plessy Pardon Possible

court document

2006 was a busy year for Louisiana State Senator Edwin Murray. His district, District 4, along with the rest of metropolitan New Orleans, was early in the process of recovering from the devastating flooding following the floodwall failures after Hurricane Katrina. He filed 67 bills in the 2006 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature. One, though, recently made national news for its far-reaching historical impact.

SB547, authored by Senator Murray, provided a remedy for civil rights pioneers whose convictions for violating racially discriminatory laws remained on their records. He named the provision for Louisiana civil rights leader Avery Alexander. The bill’s summary states, "The Avery C. Alexander Act," provides that a person convicted of violating a state law or municipal ordinance whose purpose was to maintain or enforce racial separation or discrimination could upon application be granted a pardon of the conviction.”

Senator Murray, now a vice chancellor at LSU Health New Orleans, said he wanted to honor civil rights heroes and “help those whose records may have kept them from being admitted to certain schools or professions, or prohibited them from obtaining certain licenses.”

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The Avery Alexander Act was the basis for the unanimous vote by the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole on November 12, 2021, to recommend pardoning Homer Plessy more than a century after he was arrested for violating Louisiana’s Separate Car Act of 1890. The Act required railways in Louisiana to provide separate train car accommodations for blacks and whites. More than 60 years before Rosa Parks, Plessy, who was one-eighth black, challenged the law, refused to give up his seat in the “Whites Only” car and was arrested. His case was appealed all the way up to the U. S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1896 that separate but equal facilities did not violate the Constitution. In the landmark case Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court said that segregation was not discrimination. It took until 1954 for “separate but equal” to be overturned with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
Ed Murray
Murray did not file the bill as he originally intended. While he felt the pardons would partially right the wrongs, feedback from some potential beneficiaries caused him to revise the Act so that pardons would be allowed but not required.

“I was surprised by the number of calls I got from people saying they didn’t want their convictions removed,” recalls Murray. “While they liked the idea, these civil rights leaders felt their records were badges of honor that showed their kids and grandkids what they had contributed.”

Plessy plaque
Invoking Murray’s Avery C. Alexander Act, the same New Orleans District Attorney’s Office that prosecuted Homer Plessy sought his posthumous pardon in recognition of the upcoming 125th anniversary of Mr. Plessy’s conviction by guilty plea in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. DA Jason Williams, along with Homer Plessy’s descendant Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, a descendant of the judge who convicted him, spoke at the hearing.
"There is no doubt that he was guilty of that act on that date," DA Williams told the Board. "But there is equally no doubt that such an act should have never been a crime in this country. This Avery Alexander Pardon Law absolutely allows us to come before this body and ask for this posthumous pardon.”

He continued, “This is something that is not just important to Mr. Plessy’s legacy, to the city and to the state. I believe it is something that is important to this country at a very, very difficult time. There are small things that we can all do every day to atone for the sins of the past that we had nothing to do with. This may seem small, but it is deeply symbolic.”

Thanks to the pathway Ed Murray created, justice will finally be served to Homer Adolph Plessy when Governor John Bel Edwards awards his full posthumous pardon.