From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Thompson v City of Louisville [Shuffle Dancing]

On January 24, 1959, Sam Thompson, an elderly African American man, was arrested for loitering while doing a "shuffle dance" in the Liberty End Cafe in Louisville, KY, and for disorderly conduct. Thompson was waiting on a bus and had been in the cafe for about half an hour, dancing by himself. The dance was neither vulgar nor disrespectful. The cafe owner said that Thompson had not purchased anything, but that he did not object to his presence; Thompson had been in the cafe several times before and had caused no problems. Regardless, two police officers, doing a routine check, approached Thompson and asked him to explain why he was in the cafe. Thompson said that he was waiting on a bus, then gave his address, showed that he had money, and presented the bus schedule. Thompson was arrested for loitering while doing a "shuffle dance"; the cafe did not have a license for dancing. When Thompson became argumentative while being led from the cafe, he was charged with disorderly conduct. Thompson did not raise his voice or use offensive language nor did he engage in any type of a physical altercation. He had been arrested 54 times prior to the January 24 arrest.

Sam Thompson hired an attorney and demanded a judicial hearing because of what he described as prior baseless charges by the police. During his hearing, it was found that Thompson had actually purchased food and drunk a beer while in the cafe. He owned land and had worked for the same family for 30 years. The Louisville Police Court found Thompson guilty of loitering and disorderly conduct and charged him $10 per charge. Thompson's appeals for the case to be thrown out and for a new trial were denied, so Thompson took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was found that a "shuffle dance" was not illegal in Louisville, and the criminal convictions were reversed on due process grounds because the convictions were devoid of evidentiary support. The action was remanded to the lower court. The case was decided on March 21, 1960. When news of Thompson's case being taken to the U.S. Supreme Court was reported in newspapers around the country, there were articles that exaggerated the number of times that Thompson had been arrested, some depicting him as a vagrant and loitering drunk and others poked fun at the Kentucky "shuffle dancing" case before the Supreme Court.

For more see Thompson v City of Louisville ET AL., No. 59, Supreme Court of the United States, 362 U.S. 199: 80 S. Ct. 624; 4L. ED. 2d 654; "Court of last resort," Times Record, 01/18/1960, p. 12; and "Shuffle dancing case before the Supreme Court," Stevens Point Daily Journal, 01/13/1960, p. 9.

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Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Thompson v City of Louisville ET AL., No. 59, Supreme Court of the United States
NKAA Source: Times record (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Stevens Point daily journal (newspaper)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Thompson v City of Louisville [Shuffle Dancing],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed September 20, 2020,

Last modified: 2018-08-27 19:43:04