History of the Citizens' Committee

Written by: Derrick Scott

A group of New Orleanians, led by Aristide Mary, formed the Citizens' Committee in September, 1891, to fight against segregation in general and in particular the Separate Car Act that Governor Francis Nicholls signed into law on July 10, 1890. The most famous action they took was to organize a legal challenge to this law. On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy's arrest on Royal and Press St. was not a solitary action. Numerous fellow members of the Citizens' Committee were there with him and arranged his immediate release from prison while the legal challenge moved forward. The Citizens' Committee raised money to pay lawyers' fees as the Plessy vs. Ferguson Case made its way to the United States Supreme Court.

Aristide Mary, a Reconstruction Leader and founder of the Citizen's Committee, was respected so much by his fellow segregation fighters that on his death in 1893, Citizen's Committee member Rudolph Desdunes wrote an 18-page brochure honoring his life and work. According to Desdunes, Aristide Mary "never failed to wage combat against all of the attacks which injustice continued to inspire against the rights and dignities of the citizen."

C. C. Antoine, vice president of the Citizen's Committee, was a Louisiana State legislator during the Reconstruction period. He and other black legislators began losing their opportunity to hold political position as Reconstruction ended and segregation laws and customs came into full effect. Antoine experienced the snowball effect of the loss of black political opportunity. By 1890, segregation laws and resulting unequal opportunities were gaining strength. Antoine knew that he could not just sit by and let this growing animal be fed any longer. He helped organize the Citizens' Committee, which wrote in its founding document on September 5, 1891, "We feel that unless promptly checked by the strong power of the courts, the effects of that unconstitutional and malicious measure [the Separate Car Act] will be to encourage open persecution, and increase to a frightful degree, opportunities for crimes and other hardships. . . ."