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Jim Crow

AP.USH:
KC‑6.3.II.C (KC)
,
NAT (Theme)
,
Unit 6: Learning Objective C
After Reconstruction, states in the South passed laws that barred African Americans from voting and segregated schools, restaurants, and public accommodations. 

Overview

  • Jim Crow laws were laws created by white southerners to enforce racial segregation across the South from the 1870s through the 1960s.
  • Under the Jim Crow system, “whites only” and “colored” signs proliferated across the South at water fountains, restrooms, bus waiting areas, movie theaters, swimming pools, and public schools. African Americans who dared to challenge segregation faced arrest or violent reprisal.
  • In 1896, the Supreme Court declared Jim Crow segregation legal in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision. The Court ruled that “separate but equal” accommodations African Americans were permitted under the Constitution.

Jim Crow: a symbol for racial segregation

Jim Crow segregation was a way of life that combined a system of anti-black laws and race-prejudiced cultural practices. The term "Jim Crow" is often used as a synonym for racial segregation, particularly in the American South. The Jim Crow South was the era during which local and state laws enforced the legal segregation of white and black citizens from the 1870s into the 1960s. In the Jim Crow South, it was illegal for black Americans to ride in the front of public buses, eat at a “whites only” restaurant, or attend a “white” public school.start superscript, 1, end superscript
There was also a subtler, social dimension to Jim Crow, which required that African Americans demonstrate subservience and inferiority to whites at all times. A black man who succeeded in business might find his shop burned to the ground by jealous whites. A black woman who failed to step off of the sidewalk to make way for a white man might be fired by her employer the following day. A black man who had a relationship with a white woman might be hanged in the middle of town. Most Southern whites interpreted any claim to pride or equality by African Americans as an affront.
The term Jim Crow originated from the name of a black character from early- and mid- nineteenth century American theater. Crows are black birds, and Crow was the last name of a stock fictional black character, who was almost always played onstage by a white man in wearing blackface makeup. Due to the prevalence of this character, "Jim Crow" became a derogatory term for people of African descent.squared
Painting of white man Thomas Rice with face painted black, in a manner suggesting he is dancing. He is surrounded by painted animals, including apes carrying umbrellas, and theatre curtains.
Image of the character of Jim Crow, as portrayed by Thomas Rice, a famous blackface minstrel (a white theater performer who painted his face in black makeup to caricature African Americans). Image courtesy BlackPast.org.
From the late 1800s, the name Jim Crow came to signify the social and legal segregation of black Americans from white. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, whites disenfranchised black men (by means of the poll tax, literacy test, and more), frequently relegated black workers to low-paying jobs, and poorly funded public schools for black children. In this way, whites in the Jim Crow South crafted a bitter web of political, economic, and social barriers to full and equal citizenship for their fellow black citizens.

Plessy v. Ferguson

Rosa Parks wasn't the first person to challenge segregated transportation. More than fifty years earlier, an African American man from New Orleans named Homer Plessy challenged segregated train cars. In 1892, Plessy boarded a "whites-only" compartment on a train, and was arrested when he refused to move to a "colored" compartment when called upon to do so. (Plessy planned to be arrested, intending to test the constitutionality of Louisiana's segregation law by arguing that it violated the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law for all citizens).
Plessy's case against segregation wound its way through the court system, finally arriving in the Supreme Court in 1896. In a majority decision, the Court ruled that Louisiana's segregation law did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment so long as separate accommodations for whites and blacks were equal.
Summarizing the majority ruling, Justice Henry Brown wrote, "We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it." cubed
The Plessy ruling rendered racial segregation legal throughout the United States. Although Jim Crow segregation was practiced most fiercely in the Deep South, some segregationist practices, especially housing and job discrimination, existed elsewhere in the United States as well.
Photograpph of a young African American man drinking out of a "colored" fountain. Oklahoma, 1939.
An African American man drinks out of a "colored" water cooler. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1939. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

The end of Jim Crow

Jim Crow segregation came under increasing attack following the Second World War. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke the color-line in baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1948, President Truman issued an executive order officially desegregating the US armed forces.
But it was not until 1954 that the Plessy decision was overturned in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, when the Supreme Court ruled that segregated facilities were "inherently unequal." Throughout the 1960s, thanks to the work of the Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow was dismantled piece by piece, through legislation that made it illegal to segregate public facilities, suppress voting, discriminate in housing, or prohibit interracial marriage.start superscript, 4, end superscript

What do you think?

Can you define Jim Crow segregation in your own words and give one example of it?
The Declaration of Independence declares “all men are created equal.” So how could whites justify imposing Jim Crow laws across the South?
How do you think Jim Crow segregation affected the lives of African Americans? How would you have felt if you had been subject to the economic, social, personal, and cultural effects of Jim Crow laws?

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user alicia.r6896
    how did Jim crow segregation affect the lives of African Americans
    (8 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Ian Henderson
    The Declaration of Independence declares “all men are created equal.” So how could whites justify imposing Jim Crow laws across the South?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user samanthaj22
    How did Jim Crow manifest itself in Pasco?--How did society segregate itself there?
    (3 votes)
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  • primosaur seed style avatar for user Rachel
    What were two causes of Jim Crow and what were the two effects of Jim Crow?
    (0 votes)
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  • duskpin tree style avatar for user Jennifer
    - How did Jim Crow finally end and who end it?
    - How did the laws start at the beginning.
    -"A black man who succeeded in business might find his shop burned to the ground by jealous whites." for this does white people also punishment for burned?
    - Are there any observers who check when black people break the rules?or white people declaration?
    - "Jackie Robinson broke the color-line in baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers." what is this quote means?
    - who mades the Jim Crow laws? not just South
    -what is Plessy v. Ferguson get for arresting?
    (4 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Olivia
      Jim Crow was ended by nonviolent protest and court litigation by a plethora of people involved in the civil rights movement. They started after Reconstruction ended. White people were never punished for such acts. White people have falsely accused Black people, and they did watch for perceived slights. In baseball, African Americans could only play in the Minor League which was not viewed with as much fanfare as the Major League. Jim Crow laws existed throughout the country, per se the North's redlining laws prohibiting African Americans from buying homes in White neighborhoods. Homer Plessy was arrested for passing as a White person. Hope this helps! :D
      (1 vote)
  • starky seedling style avatar for user kohen
    why would the supreme court even think that allowing the jim crow laws was good. because that goes against a lot of what A. lincoln tried to fix after the civil war.
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      By the time that the military occupation of reconstruction was over, the former Confederate states had been readmitted to the union, and the Jim Crow legislation began to bear fruit, A. Lincoln had long been dead. In fact, he didn't even make it to the end of the war to be able to "try to fix things after the war".
      (2 votes)
  • starky sapling style avatar for user drerolle25
    I don't want to answer
    (2 votes)
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  • duskpin seedling style avatar for user bdthrift
    How did Jim Crow affect the next decade.
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Elian
    The Declaration of Independence declares “all men are created equal.” So how could whites justify imposing Jim Crow laws across the South?
    (1 vote)
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    • male robot hal style avatar for user Stephen White
      The Declaration of Independence was about 70 years before Jim Crow laws actually started being enacted, and the Declaration was a statement of grievances against England. By the time Jim Crow gained steam, the grievances had been settled with England and the Declaration was history.

      Still, people of the 19th and 20th centuries should have known that "all men are created equal," as the Declaration stated, and should have treated everyone that way. The problem is, people can find many ways to mistreat their fellow citizens, and can come up with a lot of reasons to back up their actions.

      Are people of the black races less than MEN? Some thought so.
      Are women covered under the all MEN created equal clause. Some didn't think so.

      Hopefully you get the idea of how these things can come about and how people can justify their actions.
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Diego Burgos
    why did the problem exist?
    What solutions were proposed?
    (1 vote)
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