What began as a mockery of Blacks for money turned into legal racism ravaging the USA in the 1800s and 1900s? The Jim Crow Laws were ended only by the Civil Rights Movement in the 20th century.
What are Jim Crow Laws?
When the African American Journalist T. McCants Stewart reported from his tour of the Southern states in 1885, he could travel first-class cars without being racially discriminated against and received more respect than New England (a Northern State); he was proven wrong after a few years. From the beginning of the 1890s, the Jim Crow Laws– the most glaring long-sustained evidence of racism in American history became the norm in the Southern States.
What is Jim Crow Law? – A brief introduction
According to Jim Crow facts, it was not single legislation but a collection of lawful statutes in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which sealed the practice of racial discrimination against Blacks. It lasted for almost 75 years, beginning in the 1890s, and was a form of rigorous racial apartheid, similar to what crippled South Africa.
Who named it Jim Crow Laws? The first time one could see the term in print was when segregation of railroad cars became a contention topic. A New York Times correspondent incorporated the phrase in the headline of an 1892 article, which ran as ‘Louisiana’s “Jim Crow Laws” Valid.” Louisiana passed a decree mandating that persons of color should occupy only those seats allotted to them based on race. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg of Jim Crow Laws in the South. The atrocity was far deep entrenched, to the caricatures of Thomas Dartmouth Rice.
Popularly known as Thomas Daddy Rice, this actor had built his fame at African Americans’ expense, satirizing them in his derogatory caricatures. Smeared in shoe polish to hide the Whiteness of his skin, he would jump and sing and dance in a manner that supposedly imitated a slave from Rice’s personal experience. He named the show “Jump Jim Crow” and probably coined the term and popularised it. Once the laws became enforced, the phrase became synonymous with pejorative for African Americans and their humiliated status in society.
When did Jim Crow Laws start?
In December 1865, Congress passed the 13th Amendment, which officially ended the practice of Slavery. With the passage of the 14th and the 15th Amendment, African Americans earned more civil rights. These emancipatory policies for the Black people recognized them as lawful American citizens and granted them the right to vote, respectively. Their participation in electoral offices and other sections of politics increased too. However, after the Reconstruction era ended, governments enacted new laws at the federal and state levels to maintain the racial hierarchy. When the 19th president of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes, was elected to office in 1877, he sanctioned the withdrawal of federal troops from the Southern states, allowing them to enact Jim Crow laws that considerably restricted the rights of the Black people.
The Supreme Court further aggravated the situation by authorizing Jim Crow segregation laws in 1896, in the Plessy vs Fergusson case. The case challenged the Louisiana General Assembly’s order, which forced Black people to travel in separate railroads from Whites, another example of Jim Crow Laws. However, except for Justice Harlan, the Court decreed in favor of the law. Homer A. Plessy, who was one-eighth black and seven-eighth white, could not affirm his rights to a seat in a coach allotted for White Americans. The Court, too, refuted his protest about the unconstitutional nature of the law. This controversial judgment negated some clauses of the 1875 Civil Rights Act. It sealed the Black people’s fates in America, legalizing all forms’ racial violence.
Jim Crow Laws in the South
Taking a cue from the Plessy vs. Fergusson case, the Southern state governments took the opportunity to discriminate against the African-Americans after 1877. Blacks’ constant influx to these states stirred demands for separate establishments out of fear for contagion and lack of opportunities. These states laid down some of the most egregious examples of Jim Crow Laws.
First, the grandfather clauses mandated that only those whose forefathers had voting rights before the Civil War could nominate their candidates. The restrictions on voting rights increased as the criteria for adult franchise excluded those who could not pay poll taxes or could not pass the literacy test, that is, memorizing the names of the Supreme Court Justices and Vice Presidents in American history. In another instance of Jim Crow Laws in the South, some states like Mississippi even licensed only white Democrats to vote.
Here is another Jim Crow fact which one should be aware of. The discrimination against the African Americans in the Southern States infiltrated the Northern States too. Businesses catered only to the Whites, and schools maintained segregationist policy. Allan Granbery Thurman, Governor of Ohio in 1867, undid whatever reforms the state had made after the Civil War.
Jim Crow Laws 1930s
The 1930s were a crucial period in American history following the First World War, impacting the Jim Crow Laws. Before that, the beginning of the twentieth century had witnessed some critical landmark events in the vindication of African Americans’ civil rights. In 1908, the Springfield Race Riot in Illinois took place, causing the destruction of 40 Black homes by White vigilantes. In response to these riots, both Black and White civil rights activists came together to end Jim Crow segregation. They laid the foundations of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. Its primary agenda in the 1930s was to stop the prevalence of mob lynching of Black people. The Red Summer of 1919 became infamous for the 25 race riots that ravaged the United States. Following the Red Summer, in 1920, Blacks migrated in large numbers to the Northern states. The Great Depression further intensified the animosity. The Jim Crow Laws 1930s saw further perpetuation of discrimination.
How harsh was Jim Crow Laws 1930s? Birmingham in Alabama stopped allowing colored and White people from playing a game of checkers, chess and dominoes together. In 1935, Oklahoma prohibited them from boating together. The governments did not allow Blacks to purchase property in places majorly inhabited by Whites. Prohibition against interracial marriage also became rampant in the Jim Crow Laws 1930s, and the repercussions for defying the laws were too severe. The police mercilessly flogged the Blacks, with no option for redress.
When did the Jim Crow laws end?
The wind of change started blowing after the Second World War. William Francis Murphy was an associate jurist of the Supreme Court. In 1944, he coined the term “racism” and used it in an interracial marriage case. Harry S. Truman also proclaimed the abolition of Jim Crow segregation in the US military post-World War II in 1948. The Civil Rights Movement started in the next decade, ushering in the transition to equality.
In December 1955, Rosa Parks, an active member of the NAACP, firmly held to her seat in a bus in Montgomery in Alabama when asked to give it up for a White male. Her act of defiance against the Jim Crow Laws became a landmark incident, and the Montgomery Improvement Association was formed, with Martin Luther King, Jr. at its helm. The organization held bus boycotts in the province until the Supreme Court finally ceded their demands to desegregate Alabama buses in November 1956. On August 28, 1963, 200,000 Americans participated in the March for Jobs and Freedom in Washington. At the parade, King gave his landmark speech of “I have a dream”– the cornerstone of the American political and civil rights movement.
Legislative victories began in 1954 when in the Brown vs. Board of Education, Topeka case, the US Supreme Court officially abolished segregated schools citing psychological harm. Ten years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed, and Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, repealing the previous Jim Crow Laws. Blacks became legally empowered to enter all public places from which the state had denied them access. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act ensured that all Blacks got the right to elect their representatives.
Jim Crow Facts
Some key Jim Crow Facts are as follows:
- Thomas Dartmouth Rice coined the term, Jim Crow.
- Congress passed two amendments in 1865 and 1868. The 13th Amendment abolished Slavery, while the 14th proclaimed that no US citizen would have their rights curtailed.
- The Civil Rights Act, 1875, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1883.
- In 1896, the Supreme Court reinforced the separate car act, an example of Jim Crow Laws, in the historical Plessy vs. Fergusson case.
- In the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka case, 1954, the Court finally proclaimed the “separate but equal” policy “unconstitutional”. It repealed the educational institutions’ segregation policy.
- The Civil Rights Act, 1964, abolished the Jim Crow Laws formally.