Plessy & Ferguson, Jim Crow vs. Jane Crow.

I read today of — and fine good stead for the harsh times.

Yesterday was the anniversary of a moment that led to a mixed race president. A man named Homer Plessy, of African heritage, boarded a “whites only” train in New Orleans. He did it on purpose, to get the court case. I have passed the historical marker many times, it’s on Royal Street at Press Street, where the trains still do rumble by, but freight, not passenger. The site is in the gayborhood – at the “border” between the Marigny and the Bywater sections of the city. The next neighborhood upriver from the Marigny is the French Quarter, through which Royal Street runs, right behind St. Louis Cathedral, and 4 blocks from quite a collection of gay bars. St. Louis was a French king, Louis IX, in the Middle Ages. I’m sure he did something good for the Church to bestow the sainthood; though Medieval kings did have this thing about absolute power and dungeons. I think it combined church and state in a very bad way, but I’m a radical for liberty on such things.

John Howard Ferguson was the judge who ruled against Plessy, and for the state – and said “separate but equal” is the law of the land, because it’s what the “majority” and “society” and “American values” and even “Christianity” required, and it was the law! Which always must be defended, it is said. In this case, it was because Africans were not quite the same as Europeans, so must be kept separate on the trains and lunch counters, and even the drinking fountains – though why there was no law requiring one to walk on one side of the street, and the other to walk the other side is not known. Now that would be separation.

The case is illustrative on so many points, and not just the usual ones of course. I always go boldly beyond the usual, where few think to go. The Supreme Court, back then, in 1896 was “conservative” indeed, so they upheld Ferguson, told Plessy to sit in the “colored” part of the train and shush. This set off 60 years of what is called “Jim Crow.” Of course, Jim had been around since 1877 – when Reconstruction was over (and forever, if you think about it,) and the Democrats who ruled the South (not a Republican in the place for a 100 years, until 1977, mind you,) made everything as “separate” as they could, but still had the Black maid in to clean the carpets. This doctrine of “separate but equal” was the law of the land until 1954 – when Brown V. Board of Education said, nah, that’s just too stupid and pointless meanness. They put it in legal language, of course.

And from Brown led a whole slew of actions and cases that culminated in the show of force in the South – the backlash as it were, against “uppity” folks who demanded some rights and accommodation, and the decent respect for the opinions of one’s fellow man – not on a characteristic – but on character. And there is a big big difference. Martin Luther King, Jr. of course famously said it: “judged not on the color of their skin, but on their character.” And so that’s why we have Obama, we judge his character, not his skin – and he won, and now we’re judging his character and we’re finding it not a good as promised. But that’s a different story, you know, the economy and the deficit and the wars.

Anyway – Jim Crow – which was the societal position and its attendant attitudes, and with plenty of Bible juice thrown into the recipe – made for a rather difficult time for 12% of the population – one that could never get a majority of the votes anywhere, especially since they were either denied the vote totally, or districts were drawn to dilute the peril to the God ordained order of things; they said. So some activists acted, and some more reasonable men eventually came to the conclusion, “yes, Jim Crow is not nice, and it’s actually unAmerican, since it denied the endowed by our Creator bit in the Declaration of Independence.”

There was of course, a great debate for a century on the issue. And it was slow going, but finally it was all broken down and the nation healed, and Oprah the biggest, and richest TV star in all the land. And no one fulminates from the pulpit – public or church – about the evils of the African race and what they’d do to “our” women and break up the natural order of things, blah blah blah. In fact, it’s exactly like the language used today to maintain, how shall we call it, Jane Crow.

Yes, let’s call it Jane Crow, for they say we are gender confused, and just the worse thing since Plessy boarded the train, too, and we’re not quite the men they think they are. The parallels between the Plessy & Ferguson case, and Bowers v. Hardwick are quite clear – we were told the law was clear, and we were “equal” but very separate indeed. Why, we could be anyone we wanted to be – very “equal” – we just couldn’t do it with someone we loved, perhaps, or even really mention it too much, lest others were upset. No, we had to be kept separate from each other. That was the point of the bar raids – to keep us separated. Lest some unholy terror happen and a boy be made gay somewhere on the other side of town. So while Jim Crow kept the blacks separate from whites, Jane Crow keeps gays separated from each other. Which is a parallel, but not equivalent at all. Because of the evils of the gays and what they’d do to “our” men, and break up the natural order of things, blah blah blah. Which is pretty much the exact same language, so even our opponents see the parallels, no?

And the churches which did support the Jim Crow were many. While there were black churches of course. And so the churches which support Jane Crow are many. While there are gay churches, and gay friendly churches galore nowadays. More are coming on board the train of liberty for us too. And it’s funny that Plessy took place in June, when many a wedding be – in New Orleans – where on Sunday June 23, 1973, 32 gay men were burned to death and no one gave a damn, for the good of society, and perhaps praised like an old time lynching. No one cared, except themselves and family and friends of course, when a black guy was lynched. And still, today, there has been no real investigation of the Upstairs Lounge Firebombing massacre.

You know, Plessy of course was told to shush, and not just by the courts. It was common for black men to be told to “shush boy,” and it was quite fine and Christian to do, it was said. And when gay guys speak up, well, we’re told to shush all the time too. I get told constantly on the internet, “shush Jim” – or something similar, often more nasty, akin to “shush n…” I get “shush faggot” – oh, look – we can’t write the N word anymore, no, that would be bad – but right there in a Supreme Court case of late it was written “faggot” is a perfectly fine word for anyone to use, for free speech. And yet, for “free speech” we’re denied the use of the word “marriage.” Quite a leap of logic to be allowed to say anything derogatory about us, but not allowed to say something positive, eh? For the liberty! For somebody’s Creator, but not mine. I am apparently not endowed by my Creator with the same set of inalienable rights – and I would think whom to smooch is right up there at the top of things – and I’m to be kept “separate” from the law – but “equal,” too, of course.

Now, just like blacks had the Education case, we got the Lawrence case, which allowed us to be together again, without the fear of the police state come knocking on the door – though the poor fools never could seem to find us, even when we put both our names on the mailbox. Still, it took more than two court cases to end the Jim Crow. And it took a 100 years. And it took a major shift in public opinion, sometimes said when the backlash got so horrific that people were being hosed off the streets, little girls even, in pig tails and ribbons, ripped apart by the firehoses of crazed lunatics who thought God was on their side.

Why just the other day, some nut job wasted good money and flew a banner over Disney World saying “warning, gay days at Disney.” And I think – what’s so bad about happy days at Disney World? Isn’t that the point of the place? Even more hysterical, of course, is the great irony that everyday is gay day at Disney – because whom do you think is inside the Dopey, Sneezy, Micky, Doofy costumes and the rest? Who do you think is singing “it’s a small world, after all”? Whom do you think is running the place and thinking up half that stuff (not the engineers, I think gays don’t do engineering, we put up the creative stuff, straights make it stand up.) Well, I’ve been to Disney character parties in Orlando, and let me tell you, there’s not a hetero in the bunch.

And so now, I’m told we’re to fear a backlash. Because of our one characteristic that bothers them, and our character doesn’t count for nothing. And the forces against us are getting all happy with their new found toys called legislatures, and they will pass laws against us – and in Minnesota’s case, the exact same law against us twice, just to make sure it’s really clear, and new and improved with calcium or something, for strength – “you can smooch, but we’re not going to admit it. Lalalala.” Yes, the DOMAs and mini-DOMAs are all lalalala laws. Like three monkeys, “If we don’t see it or say it or hear it, it can’t be.”

The pointless meanness of it all, is of course, becoming more apparent to most of the nation, some 50, even 60 percent now are quite opposed to the “separate but equal” doctrine of Jane Crow. And the trend is for us. And the backlash is growing – and I don’t know who will pull out the figurative or real firehoses and sweep us off the streets like so much garbage after a parade, but it’s coming. But fear not the backlash – embrace it – demand it – taunt the bums into showing their genocidal designs on a tiny percentage of the world. And then we’ll be free at last, thank God, free at last. And you’re all welcome to the wedding. Or at least to the unveiling of the historic marker.


1 Comment

  1. You wrote here a wonderful piece indeed. It is so well sequenced and draws the parallels so clearly. I commend you…accolades to you.


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