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Jim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation
Introduction: Following the end of the Civil War and adoption of the 13th Amendment, white southerners were not happy with the end of slavery and the prospect of living or working “equally” with blacks whom they considered inferior. To try and maintain the status quo, the majority of states and local communities passed “Jim Crow” laws that mandated “separate but equal” status for African Americans. These laws authorized legal punishments for consorting with the opposite race.Jim Crow Laws were statutes and ordinances established between 1874 and 1975 to separate the white and black races in the American South. In theory, it was to create “separate but equal” treatment but in practice Jim Crow Laws condemned black citizens to inferior treatment and facilities. Education was segregated as were public facilities such as hotels and restaurants under Jim Crow Laws. In reality, Jim Crow laws led to treatment and accommodations that were almost always inferior to those provided to white Americans.
The most important Jim Crow laws required that public schools, public facilities, e.g., water fountains, toilets, and public transportation, like trains and buses, have separate facilities for whites and blacks. These laws meant that black people were legally required to:
• attend separate schools and churches
• use public bathrooms marked “for colored only”
• eat in a separate section of a restaurant
• sit in the rear of a bus
Background: The term “Jim Crow” originally referred to a black character in an old song, and was the name of a popular dance in the 1820s. Around 1828, Thomas “Daddy” Rice developed a routine in which he blacked his face, dressed in old clothes, and sang and danced in imitation of an old and decrepit black man. Rice published the words to the song, “Jump, Jim Crow,” in 1830. Beginning in the 1880s, the term “Jim Crow” saw wide usage as a reference to practices, laws or institutions that arise from or sanction, the physical separation of black people from white people. Jim Crow laws in various states required the segregation of races in such common areas as restaurants and theaters. The “separate but equal” standard established by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Fergurson (1896) lent high judicial support to segregation.
A Montgomery, Alabama ordinance compelled black residents to take seats apart from whites on municipal buses. At the time, the “separate but equal” standard applied, but the actual separation practiced by the Montgomery City Lines was hardly equal. Montgomery bus operators were supposed to separate their coaches into two sections: whites up front and blacks in back. As more whites boarded, the white section was assumed to extend toward the back. On paper, the bus company’s policy was that the middle of the bus became the limit if all the seats farther back were occupied. Nevertheless, that was not the everyday reality. During the early 1950s, a white person never had to stand on a Montgomery bus. In addition, it frequently occurred that blacks boarding the bus were forced to stand in the back if all seats were taken there, even if seats were available in the white section.
The Beginning of the End of Segregation
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Louise Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005), a resident of Montgomery, Alabama refused to obey bus driver James Blake’s demand that she relinquish her seat to a white man. She was arrested, fingerprinted, and incarcerated. When Parks agreed to have her case contested, it became a cause célèbre in the fight against Jim Crow laws. Her trial for this act of civil disobedience triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation in history, and launched Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the organizers of the boycott, to the forefront of the civil rights movement that fostered peaceful protests to Jim Crow laws.
During the early 1960s numerous civil rights demonstrations and protests were held, particularly in the south. On February 1, 1960, after shopping for school supplies in a Woolworth department store in Greensboro, N.C, four black freshmen from North Carolina A & T College asked to be served at the store’s segregated lunch counter. The basic plan of the sit-ins was that a group of students would go to a lunch counter and ask to be served. If they were, they would move on to the next lunch counter. If they were not served they would not move until they had been. If they were arrested, a new group would take their place. The students always remained nonviolent and respectful. By August 1961, the movement had attracted over 70,000 participants and resulted in more than 3,000 arrests.
Building on the success of the “sit-ins,” another type of protest was planned using “Freedom Riders.” The Freedom Riders were a volunteer group of men and women, black and white, young and old (many from university and college campuses) across the country who boarded buses, trains and planes bound for the deep south to challenge outdated laws and practices and the region’s non-compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prohibited segregation in all interstate public transportation facilities.
These and other civil rights demonstrations moved President John F. Kennedy to send to Congress a civil rights bill on June 19, 1963. The proposed legislation offered federal protection to African Americans seeking to vote, to shop, to eat out, and to be educated on equal terms.
To capitalize on the growing public support for the civil rights movement and to put pressure Congress to adopt civil rights legislation, a coalition of the major civil rights groups was formed to plan and organize a large national demonstration in the nation’s capital. The hope was to enlist a hundred thousand people to come to attend a March on Washington DC.
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J.E. (2011). Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/civil-war-reconstruction/jim-crow-laws-andracial-segregation/