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The origins of Jim Crow - introduction

The Jim Crow Segregation system, prevalent in the U.S. from 1877 to 1954, stripped African Americans of voting rights and enforced separate public accommodations. The term "Jim Crow" originated from a minstrel show character. This legal segregation system emerged after the Civil War, replacing the abolished slavery system.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] In this video I want to talk about the System of Jim Crow Segregation, which was common in the United States from about 1877 to approximately 1954; although, it goes a little bit further than that. Now, you're probably familiar with some of the aspects of Jim Crow Segregation from the Civil Rights Movement. Jim Crow Segregation involved the loss of voting rights for African Americans, as well as, separate public accommodations, and by public accommodations, I mean all sorts of public spaces in American life. So, this might be transportation, separate areas in trains and buses, or hotels, bathrooms, swimming pools, water fountains. So, these places in public life, where African Americans were put in the place of a second-class citizenship. Where they could not experience the full range of movement, job benefits, protection of the law, or really any of the aspects of American citizenship, that are the benefits that come with paying taxes and abiding by the law. And during this period of Jim Crow this kind of segregation was legal, this was not just in practice, but encoded in the law. So, where did this System of Jim Crow come from? Well, let's start with the name Jim Crow. Jim Crow was not the name of a specific person. Actually, Jim Crow was the name of a stock character. A stock character is kind of a basic well-known character, in usually a comedy, and we still have stock characters in comedy today, in lots of different forms of entertainment; Think of, the absent-minded professor, or more recently, the manic-pixie-dream girl, the girl who is going to change your whole life by being so off-the-wall. Well, Jim Crow was one of these characters in a form of entertainment called the minstrel show. And the minstrel show was a very popular, kind of vaudeville-type live performance. The minstrel show was actually very popular in the north of the United States, places like New York City. And in the 1830s, 1840s, kind of this antebellum period, before the Civil War. So, this character of Jim Crow was supposed to be kind of the stupid slave who lived on the plantation, and this character of Jim Crow was almost always played by a white man wearing black makeup on his face. So, it was not an actual African American person, but rather a caricature of an African American person by a white man who was part of a minstrel troupe. And so the name, Jim Crow, became kind of synonymous with African American's and with enslaved people in the early 19th century, the way that say Patty became synonymous with an Irish person. So, the term Jim Crow Law, or the Jim Crow System means laws that were specifically aimed at African Americans. Alright, so that's the origin of the name, but where did they system come from? And for that we're gonna have to do fairly deep dive into American history, and I won't be able to go into everything here but let's kind of look at this from the thousand-foot view and get a sense of the overall pattern of slavery, the Civil War, and race relations after the Civil War to see where Jim Crow starts. Now, I've been daring here and done a vertical timeline. The first thing we have on here is the end of the Civil War. Now, before the Civil War in the southern part of the United States, which I have outlined in red here, most of these states had legal slavery. And in these states, or the colonies that preceded them, starting about 1620, they imported African slaves to be unfree laborers on cash-crop plantations, and these might include tobacco, or cotton. And that system of slavery persisted until the balance of power between the north, where slavery was largely illegal, and the South, where slavery was the backbone of the economic and political system. Eventually it tore the country apart into the Civil War. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States issued the Emancipation Proclamation, saying that all enslaved people, and the states which were currently in rebellion were now free. But it wasn't until the end of the Civil War that slavery's end was official everywhere in the United States. And the end of slavery really posed a problem for the states of the South. Now obviously this was a wonderful thing for people who had been enslaved, now they had full freedom to move, and work, and marry whomever they pleased, at least in theory. But it also meant that the system of slavery, which had dominated the politics, the economics, the social system of the South for more than 200 years was now over, and something had to replace it. So, in the immediate period after the Civil War the question is, what are race relations going to look like in the South? How will whites and blacks relate to each other without the system of slavery, which has dominated the entire region for more than 200 years? And we'll get into that in our next video.