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An Inspiring Response to the “Separate-But-Equal” Supreme Court Decision that Divided America

   Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson were born in New Orleans in 1957.

   Sixty-five years earlier a member of each family met in a courtroom when Judge John Howard Ferguson found Homer Plessy guilty of breaking the law by sitting in a train car for white riders.

   The case of Plessy v. Ferguson went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1896 that "separate-but-equal" was constitutional, sparking decades of unjust laws and attitudes. TOGETHER threads the personal stories of Keith and Phoebe into the larger history of the Plessy v. Ferguson case, race relations, and the civil rights movement, telling the inspiring tale of how Keith and Phoebe change the ending of the story that links their families in history.

  "It's a flip on the script," as Keith Plessy says in the book. 

     Cover Art © Ayo Scott, from the mural he created in Plessy Park in New Orleans.



"Amy Nathan's inspiring book covers two families on opposite sides of the legacy of Jim Crow. . . Interwoven with a detailed history of the events that led up to Plessy v. Ferguson is the story of the friendship between Judge Ferguson and Homer Plessy's descendants, Phoebe Ferguson and Keith Plessy, and their joint work to continue the dismantling of the legacy of Jim Crow. Nathan's history of race in the South is detailed, honest, and multifaceted, and Phoebe and Keith's story is inspiring. Together is an accessible multigenerational story that shows the importance of acknowledging the complicated past when building a stronger future.

—Foreword Reviews


"Amy Nathan's well-researched and beautifully written book makes clear the history of racism that has kept Black people separate and unequal in U.S. society for so long—and how we today can work to chart a new future. The friendship between Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, descendants of the antagonists in the infamous Supreme Court decision that cemented racial inequality, Plessy v. Ferguson, demonstrates that ancestry need not be destiny—if we are willing to do the hard work of repair. In Amy Nathan's capable hands, their intertwined histories come alive, demonstrating one of many paths we can purposefully take towards a more equitable society."
—Leslie M. Harris, Professor of History, Northwestern University


"I found TOGETHER simultaneously fascinating and moving. It is a prime example of how best to engage young people in the study of history—particularly Black history—and of the law. A true story of real people, how the tragedy of the Supreme Court's 'separate-but-equal' decision (1896) affected them, and how their descendants came together to document the struggle for civil rights in their city and state."
—Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg, Senior Circuit Judge, U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and Professor of Law, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University
"As a high school teacher and education professor, I've always despised history textbooks. They either ignore racial inequities or simplify struggles to change them. They disconnect past from present, leaving youth to ask, 'Why does this matter?' This question will never be asked of Nathan's Together. In this storied rendering of the fight against segregation, readers come to know the people and places, the dreams, and conflicts that not only shaped past freedom movements, but the actions of descendants who demand justice today. From oral testimony to artistic murals, from family trees to historic markers, Black Lives Matter in these pages. Together is a literary lightning bolt, an anti-racist curriculum that will shake the ground in New Orleans and beyond." 

—Kristen Buras, Associate Professor, Georgia State University
"An ambitious account of the legacies of Plessy and Ferguson . . . Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, two New Orleans–based activists born in the deeply segregated city in 1957, provide an apt framework for Nathan to narrativize centuries of legislation of Black bodies. Plessy's great-grandfather's cousin Homer met Ferguson's great-great-grandfather John in a courtroom in 1892, and Nathan attempts to demystify the eventual Supreme Court case that bears their surnames by explaining in plain language prior laws and legal precedents, the unique complexities of race in antebellum New Orleans, and the shifts that occured after the Civil War and Reconstruction. . . . easy-to-digest information. . . . the pair attempt to reconcile their shared history and ultimately provide Nathan's work a hopeful, contemporary conclusion."

 — Kirkus Reviews


"Some of the things I loved about TOGETHER are its connections of critical big historic moments to individual personal understandings; its readable summary of Reconstruction; and its theme of 'inspiring others,' both the whole concept of descendants coming together to make change, and the way readers can see specific examples of what has been and can be done."
—Dr. Mary Battenfeld, American and New England Studies, Boston University

DISCUSSION GUIDE - TOGETHER - For Book Clubs or Discussion Groups (311 KB)

DISCUSSION GUIDE - TOGETHER - For Book Clubs or Discussion Groups


TEACHERS GUIDE for High School and Middle School:  Chapter-by-chapter discussion questions, activity suggestions, and a separate lesson on Historical Markers — for classroom use or for "independent student reading."

1811 Text (83.4 KB)