Plessy v. Ferguson
by Thomas J. Davis
July 2012, 238pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Greenwood

Hardcover: 978-0-313-39187-3
$70, £54, 61€, A96
eBook Available: 978-0-313-39188-0
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

On June 7, 1892, Homer Adolph Plessy bought a first-class ticket for a Louisiana commuter train and seated himself in a car for white riders only. When Plessy identified himself to the conductor as seven-eighths white, he was removed from the train and put under arrest. Homer Adolph Plessy looked white. Who was to say whether he was or wasn’t? Plessy’s legal case primarily pressed an argument about who was who, rather than who should ride where on a train.

More than the story of one man's case, this book tells the story of entire generations of people marked as 'mixed race' in America amid slavery and its aftermath, and being officially denied their multicultural identity and personal rights as a result.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, Plessy v. Ferguson was not a simple case of black vs. white separation, but rather a challenging and complex protest for U.S. law to fully accept mixed ancestry and multiculturalism. This book focuses on the long struggle for individual identity and multicultural recognition amid the dehumanizing and depersonalizing forces of American Negro slavery—and the Anglo-American white supremacy that drove it.

The book takes students and general readers through the extended gestation period that gave birth to one of the most oft-mentioned but widely misunderstood landmark law will cases in U.S. history. It provides a chronology, brief biographies of key figures, primary documents, an annotated bibliography, and an index all of which provide easy reading and quick reference. Modern readers will find the direct connections between Plessy’s story and contemporary racial currents in America intriguing.

Thomas J. Davis, PhD, JD, is professor of history at Arizona State University, Tempe, where he teaches U.S. constitutional and legal history. His published works include Race Relations in America: A Reference Guide with Primary Documents; Race Relations in the United States, 1940–1960; and A Rumor of Revolt: The Great Negro Plot in Colonial New York.


"The author includes several examples of primary sources in this work, along with a glossary of terms illuminating content. Biographies and a bibliography of sources support and encourage further research. This book will appeal to high school and college students, but also to readers with a casual interest in the wide-ranging effects of this court case. Highly recommended."—Choice, March 1, 2013

"This is an excellent introduction not merely to the case itself but to the many issues surrounding it. Designed as a high school teaching tool, with glossary, time line, and biographies of principal players, it is highly recommended not only to its intended readers but any reader wanting a sound introduction to the world that created and responded to Plessy. School libraries and public libraries should add this to their collections."—Library Journal, January 10, 2013

"These documents . . . bring the era to life. This would be a useful supplementary text for high school libraries or for public libraries that support high school students."—ARBA, January 1, 2013

"Thomas J. Davis has produced a valuable and elegantly written book. It is thorough and entirely accessible to a broad audience."—Journal of African American History, May 9, 2016
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