“White Only” Sign


This 1929 “white only” sign from the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company exhibits the defining presence of racial segregation in Missouri during the early twentieth century. Also known as the “Cotton Belt Railroad,” the rail connected St. Louis and Missouri to the South’s cotton industry. It later formed a critical part of other major rail lines such as Southern Pacific, expanding the entire national transportation network in addition to improving St. Louis’ connection to the South and West.

This sign enforced the legal system of anti-Black segregation and discrimination by reserving spaces for the railway’s white passengers. It directly connects to the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson in this way. In a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of creating white and Black-only rail cars through the Louisiana Separate Car Act. The ruling established the “separate but equal” doctrine of American segregation, paving the way for companies like the St. Louis Southwestern Railway to racially segregate for decades to come.

Object Details

Categories: Business & Economy, Civil Rights

Creator: Jay's Sign Co.

Date: 1929

Subject: Railroads, Segregation

Contributing Institution: Missouri Historical Society

Copy Request: Transmission or reproduction of items on these pages beyond those allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the Missouri Historical Society: 314-746-4510

Rights: The text and images contained in this collection are intended for research and educational use only. Duplication of any of these images for commercial use without express written consent is expressly prohibited. Contact the Missouri Historical Society's Permissions Office at 314-746-4511 to obtain written consent.

Region: St. Louis Metro

Type: Object

Language: English

Latitude: 38.614904

Longitude: -90.25763