Homer A. Plessy v. John H. Ferguson (1896)

“The assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority.” Opinion of the Court delivered by Justice Henry Billings Brown.

My love, 

I hope you are well and this letter reaches you soon. Although I know you’ll be sending for me and the boys, you leaving for that job in Chicago has been hard for me to cope with.

I miss you baby. Be safe.

That’s kind of funny. Me telling you to be safe I mean. When I think about what could have happened to you if you’d stayed in Birmingham, I thank God that you left for the North.

The white folks down here are dangerous. Our men are still disappearing in the middle of the night. The next day someone will find them hanging from a tree with limbs missing. There’s no warning, no reason, no explanation. They’re just snatching negro men for entertainment. Laughing as they beg for their lives.

They took Miss Anna’s boy last week. The Pastor found him hanging inside the church, his body blackened by fire. Miss Anna hasn’t been the same since.

If that’s not enough for us to deal with, I know you read about New Orleans. I think the young man’s name was Plessy. Did you hear what one of the judges said? Separate but equal. Does that even make sense?

I can’t blame him for believing that. He has a good job. Probably lives in a beautiful neighbourhood where he can walk down the street with his head held high and fear no-one.

He doesn’t know the crushing feeling of waving goodbye to your soulmate as he leaves you so he can put food on the table. That man has never had to sleep with his children in his arms while they shiver and cry for just a little warmth. He’ll never be dragged from his bed in the middle of the night, tortured by strangers and set on fire as he screams for mercy. Most of all, he’ll never experience the helplessness a negro parent feels when they have to explain to their child what ‘whites only’ means. He’ll never know, but that’s what he’s left us with.

Now I’ve made myself mad! We need to get out of here. I don’t want one of our sons to end up dead just because he used the wrong diner entrance or sat in the wrong seat.

When are you sending for us baby?

Your love,

A black wife’s letter.

Written by Shaurna Cameron

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