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Primary Documents in American History

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Supreme Court of the United States. Plessy v. Ferguson
Supreme Court of the United States. Plessy v. Ferguson.
New York: Banks & Brothers Law Publishing, 1896.
Law Library of Congress.

On May 18, 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson ruled that separate-but-equal facilities were constitutional. The Plessy v. Ferguson decision upheld the principle of racial segregation over the next half-century. The ruling provided legal justification for segregation on trains and buses, and in public facilities such as hotels, theaters, and schools. The Supreme Court overruled the Plessy decision in Brown v. the Board of Education on May 17, 1954.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

Digital Collections

African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection

“African American Perspectives” gives a panoramic and eclectic review of African American history and culture from the early 19th through the early 20th centuries, with the bulk of the material published between 1875 and 1900.

Civil Rights History Project

The U. S. Congress authorized a national initiative by passing The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009. The law directs the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture to conduct a survey of existing oral history collections with relevance to the Civil Rights movement to obtain justice, freedom and equality for African Americans and to record new interviews with people who participated in the struggle, over a five year period beginning in 2010. Search on terms such as Plessy, segregation, and Jim Crow.

From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909

This collection contains 396 pamphlets from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, published from 1822 through 1909, by African-American authors and others who wrote about slavery, African colonization, Emancipation, Reconstruction, and related topics.

America's Library

Jump Back in Time: Plessy v. Ferguson May 18, 1896

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

Chronicling America

This site allows you to search and view millions of historic American newspaper pages from 1836-1922. Search this collection to find articles about Plessy v. Ferguson, Jim Crow, segregation, and related topics.

In addition, the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room has created a series of topics guides to the newspapers included in Chronicling America, including a guide on Plessy v. Ferguson (Jim Crow Laws)

Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation

The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (popularly known as the Constitution Annotated) contains legal analysis and interpretation of the United States Constitution, based primarily on Supreme Court case law. The chapter on the 14th Amendment (PDF, 2.41 MB) references Plessy v. Ferguson.


The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship

This exhibition showcases the incomparable African American collections of the Library of Congress. Displaying more than 240 items, including books, government documents, manuscripts, maps, musical scores, plays, films, and recordings.

Brown v. Board at Fifty: "With an Even Hand"

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, declaring that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The section A Century of Racial Segregation contains multiple references to Plessy v. Ferguson.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom

This exhibition, which commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, explores the events that shaped the civil rights movement.

NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom

This exhibition presents a retrospective of the major personalities, events, and achievements that shaped the NAACP’s history during its first 100 years.

Guide to Law Online

The Guide to Law Online, prepared by the Law Library of Congress Public Services Division, is an annotated guide to sources of information on government and law available online. It provides a compilation of Web sites for the United States Judiciary, including links to the Supreme Court and other Federal courts.

Prints & Photographs

Photographs of Signs Enforcing Racial Discrimination: Documentation by Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information Photographers

This reference aid includes all the known images of discrimination signs found in the Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information file of photographic prints.

Search the Library's collections of prints and photographs to find additional images related to the segregation.

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Primary Source Set: Jim Crow and Segregation

This Primary Source Set includes images, documents, maps, motion pictures, newspapers, and analysis tools to help teach about Jim Crow and segregation.

Themed Resources: Civil Rights

Explore the fight for voting rights as well as the racial history of the United States in sports and schools. Study maps, baseball cards and political cartoons as well as pamphlets, legal documents, poetry, music, and the personal correspondence and oral histories of the famous and the ordinary.

Today in History

May 18

On May 18, 1896, the Supreme Court ruled separate-but-equal facilities constitutional on intrastate railroads. For some fifty years, the Plessy v. Ferguson decision upheld the principle of racial segregation.

July 28

On July 28, 1868, Secretary of State William Seward issued a proclamation certifying without reservation that the Fourteenth Amendment was a part of the United States Constitution. On May 18, 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson that "separate but equal" facilities were considered sufficient to satisfy the Fourteenth Amendment. This decision established a pattern in American society, until May 17, 1954 when the Court reversed the Plessy decision. In the case of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka the Court held that segregation of public schools is a denial of equal protection under the law.

External Web Sites

Selected Bibliography

  • Axelrod-Contrada, Joan. Plessy v. Ferguson: Separate but Unequal. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2009. [Catalog Record]
  • Davis, Thomas J. Plessy v. Ferguson. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Greenwood, 2012. [Catalog Record]
  • Fireside, Harvey. Separate and Unequal: Homer Plessy and the Supreme Court Decision that Legalized Racism. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005. [Catalog Record]
  • Hillstrom, Laurie Collier. Plessy v. Ferguson. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2014. [Catalog Record]
  • Hoffer, Williamjames. Plessy v. Ferguson: Race and Inequality in Jim Crow America. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012. [Catalog Record]
  • Lofgren, Charles A. The Plessy Case: A Legal-Historical Interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. [Catalog Record]
  • Medley, Keith Weldon. We as Freemen: Plessy v. Ferguson. Gretna, La.: Pelican, 2003. [Catalog Record]
  • Olsen, Otto H. The Thin Disguise: Turning Point in Negro History; Plessy v. Ferguson, a Documentary Presentation, 1864-1896. New York: Humanities Press, 1967. [Catalog Record]
  • Postema, Gerald J., ed. Racism and the Law: The Legacy and Lessons of Plessy. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997. [Catalog Record]
  • Thomas, Brook, ed. Plessy v. Ferguson: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997. [Catalog Record]

Younger Readers

  • Aaseng, Nathan. Plessy v. Ferguson: Separate but Equal. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 2003. [Catalog Record]
  • Anderson, Wayne. Plessy v. Ferguson: Legalizing Segregation. New York: Rosen Pub. Group, 2004. [Catalog Record]
  • Cates, David. Plessy v. Ferguson: Segregation and the Separate but Equal Policy. Minneapolis: ABDO Pub., 2013. [Catalog Record]
  • Esty, Amos. Plessy v. Ferguson. Greensboro, N.C.: Morgan Reynolds, 2012. [Catalog Record]
  • Fireside, Harvey. Plessy v. Ferguson: Separate but Equal? Springfield, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 1997. [Catalog Record]
  • McNeese, Tim. Plessy v. Ferguson: Separate but Equal. New York: Chelsea House, 2007. [Catalog Record]
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  June 27, 2018
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