Thompson v City of Louisville [Shuffle Dancing]
On January 24, 1959, Sam Thompson, an elderly African American man, was arrested for loitering and disorderly conduct while doing a "shuffle dance" in the Liberty End Cafe in Louisville, KY. 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 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 that the case be thrown out and a new trial be held were denied, so he took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, who decided the case on March 21, 1960. Given that a "shuffle dance" was not illegal in Louisville, the court reversed the criminal convictions on due process grounds because the convictions were devoid of evidentiary support. The action was then remanded to the lower court.
Newspapers around the country reported the story of Thompson's case at the U.S. Supreme Court. Some of the accounts exaggerated the number of times Thompson had been arrested while others depicted him as a vagrant and drunken loiterer, and some poked fun at the Kentucky "shuffle dancing" case being heard by 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, 1/18/1960, p. 12; and "Shuffle dancing case before the Supreme Court," Stevens Point Daily Journal, 1/13/1960, p. 9.