Age of Jim Crow

Age of Jim Crow2019-01-12T16:58:17+00:00

Jim Crow for APUSH

About the Author: Johnny Roy has been an Advanced Placement US History teacher for the past 8 years at Cuyahoga Heights High School just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. He has been actively involved with the AP Reading as a grader for the past 3 years having scored the DBQ, LEQ, and SAQ sections of the exam.

The Age of Jim Crow

Throughout Reconstruction (1865-1877), racist white Democratic politicians worked to regain political control in the Southern states and federal government. Following the end of Reconstruction, these Democrat politicians once again controlled the state and local legislatures and they began to systematically enact discriminatory and segregationist policies.

These laws would codify a racist ideology and provide legal support for the social, economic, and political oppression of African Americans throughout the South. These laws and this era, would become known as Jim Crow.  The phrase Jim Crow originated from a white minstrel (performer) in black face who used the name “Jim Crow” to represent all African Americans.

Jim Crow laws would codify a racist ideology and provide legal support for the social, economic, and political oppression of African Americans throughout the South.

However, by the end of the 19th century the term had become synonymous with the practice of segregation and oppression that were becoming a regular way of Southern life.

Segregation in the South

Following the “redemption” of the South, after the Compromise of 1877 that saw a Democrat controlled House of Representatives help install Republican Rutherford B. Hayes into the White House in exchange for ending federal involvement in Southern affairs, the South again worked to install white supremacy into its society.

The Compromise of 1877 that saw a Democrat controlled House of Representatives help install Republican Rutherford B. Hayes into the White House in exchange for ending federal involvement in Southern affairs.

With the removal of Union military influence, and Democratic racist ideology and practices once again dominating society, segregation and discrimination against African Americans became customary practice. Public and private segregationist practices began to spread throughout the South and even into Northern states. Schools, churches, restaurants, libraries all became strictly segregated facilities in the South. Social interactions and relationships between whites and blacks were strictly regulated by law enforcement and society itself. These social customs reinforced a belief of white supremacy over African Americans that clearly created a two class racial system.

With the removal of Union military influence, and Democratic racist ideology and practices once again dominating society, segregation and discrimination against African Americans became customary practice.

Controlling the Freedman

Economic supremacy was also key to effectively re-enslaving freed slaves following the end of the Civil War. The practice of share cropping and tenant farming created a situation that trapped freed slaves in a cycle of poverty that was virtually impossible to escape from.

Due to the economic control that whites held, they were more easily able to enforce racist and restrictive laws that were common throughout the Jim Crow era.

Due to the economic control that whites held, they were more easily able to enforce racist and restrictive laws that were common throughout the Jim Crow era. The inability of African Americans to independently support themselves economically left them dependent to white society for things such as education, legal protection, and public services. All of which, if even received, were wholly inadequate to the needs of the black southern population. In most cases, no attempt at an appearance of equality was even made between services and practices offered to whites and blacks.

As more and more segregationist legislation took root throughout the South, civil rights activists began to challenge these laws using the courts.  In Plessy v Ferguson(1896), the US Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana statute that formally segregated railroad passenger cars. The court held that states and businesses could enforce segregation on the grounds that the US Constitution did not require the integration of races just the equal treatment of them. Thus, a doctrine of “separate but equal” was established.

Separate but Equal

“Separate but Equal” was applauded by Southerners and despised by Northerners because the federal government had just said that segregation based upon race was fully constitutional. African Americans were further discriminated against in terms of voting rights. Southern states enacted new literacy tests, poll taxes, and property qualifications for voting.

African Americans were further discriminated against in terms of voting rights. Southern states enacted new literacy tests, poll taxes, and property qualifications for voting.

However, some poor and illiterate whites were exempt from these requirements due to the use of “grandfather clauses” which waived these requirements based on the idea that their (white) grandfathers could vote where African Americans grandfathers could not vote, due to them being slaves.

With little access to voting opportunities African Americans were at the mercy of a white supremacy ideology in the South. With economic and political control in hand, the early to mid 20th century saw Southern society embrace Jim Crow legislation following the Plessy v Ferguson decision, signs “White Only” and “Colored” appeared over business entrances, sections of parks, theaters (where blacks had to sit in what became known as the “Jim Crow balcony”), restrooms, and drinking fountains.

These laws were strictly enforced by an all white police force that wholly supported the institution of Jim Crow.

In places of business like post offices, diners, and banks, blacks were required to wait until all whites had been served first. These laws were strictly enforced by an all white police force that wholly supported the institution of Jim Crow and made every effort to use fear and intimidation to impose and protect a system of white supremacy.  Terror groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) used harassment and intimidation to scare African Americans and sympathetic whites.  Lynchings became the definitive tool of fear, and civil rights activists like Ida B. Wells worked tirelessly to bring public awareness to the horrors of the practice being used throughout the South.

Post World War II and the End of Jim Crow

The end of World War II brought a renewed focus on the Civil Rights Movement in the US and the continued impact Jim Crow legislation was having on society. Segregation was quickly becoming a policy that a growing number in the United States were not willing to accept any longer.

Segregation was quickly becoming a policy that a growing number in the United States were not willing to accept any longer.

In 1948, President Harry Truman worked to desegregate the US military after numerous displays of service and distinction by African Americans and other minorities throughout World War II. In 1955, Rosa Parks takes her famous stance (or seat) against discrimination when refusing to adhere to racist customs in Montgomery, Alabama. Her decision to not give up her seat ushered in an era of protest and civil disobedience against the ideology of white supremacists and the Jim Crow laws that supported it.

Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) led boycotts, sit-ins, and marches challenging segregation in the South.

Slowly and at a heavy cost of verbal harassment, physical violence, being jailed, and even being murdered, these brave Civil Rights Activists began to tear down the legacy of Jim Crow and segregation. NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall led the legal fight to strip away the legal justification for segregation. Challenging the precedent of “separate but equal” in the case of Brown v Board of Education (1954), Marshall argued that segregating people based upon race was unconstitutional regardless of the conditions of the separate facilities, buildings, or situations.

Marshall argued that segregating people based upon race was unconstitutional regardless of the conditions of the separate facilities, buildings, or situations.

In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, agreed with Marshall and overturned the Plessydecision and made segregation in public education unconstitutional.  Using the Brown v Boarddecision as legal support the NAACP began to challenge other areas of society where segregation had taken hold; diners, busing, and public facilities and buildings to name just a few.

Conclusion

Due to the leadership and bravery of MLK and other Civil Rights leaders the federal government began to pass legislation that would help secure voting and other civil rights for African Americans. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were landmark efforts aimed at bringing the Jim Crow era to an end once and for all.

The 24thAmendment ratified in 1964, ended the practice of requiring poll taxes in order to vote.  These and other pieces of legislation helped to end segregationist policies of the Jim Crow era, however, much discrimination and prejudice still existed. African Americans were still harassed and treated as second class citizens. Access to educational, job, and housing opportunities were still strictly guarded by the ruling white class and the effects of this economic and political control would continue to impact African Americans all across the country as they continued to fight for equality.

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