Jim Crow laws were state and local laws in the
States enacted between 1876 and 1965.
de jure segregation
public facilities, with a supposedly "separate but equal
" status for black American
. In reality, this led to
treatment and accommodations that were usually inferior to those
provided for white Americans
systematizing a number of economic, educational and social
Some examples of Jim Crow laws are the segregation of public
schools, public places and public transportation, and the
segregation of restrooms and restaurants for whites and blacks. The
U.S. military was also segregated. These Jim Crow Laws were
separate from the 1800-66 Black
, which had also restricted the civil rights
and civil liberties
of African Americans.
State-sponsored school segregation was
declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of
the United States in 1954 in Brown v.
. Generally, the remaining Jim Crow laws were
overruled by the Civil Rights
Act of 1964
and the Voting
Rights Act of 1965
The origin of the phrase "Jim Crow" has often been attributed to
"Jump Jim Crow
", a song-and-dance
of African Americans
performed by white actor
Thomas D. Rice
which first surfaced in 1832 and was used to satirize Andrew
Jackson's populist policies. The phrase "Jim Crow Law" first
appeared in 1904 according to the Dictionary of American
, although there is some evidence of earlier usage. See
Jump Jim Crow
for more information on
Origins of Jim Crow
During the Reconstruction
period of 1865–1877 federal law provided civil rights protection in
the South for "freedmen
" — the African
Americans who had formerly been slaves. In the 1870s, white
Democrats gradually returned to power in southern states, sometimes
as a result of elections in which paramilitary groups intimidated
opponents, attacking blacks or preventing them from voting.
Gubernatorial elections were close and disputed in Louisiana for
years, with extreme violence unleashed during the campaign. In 1877
a national compromise
southern support in the presidential election resulted in the last
of the federal troops being withdrawn from the South. White
Democrats had taken back power in every Southern state. The white,
Democratic Party Redeemer
followed the troop withdrawal legislated Jim Crow laws segregating
black people from the state's white population.
Blacks were still elected to local offices in the 1880s, but the
establishment Democrats were passing laws to make voter
registration and elections more restrictive, with the result that
participation by most blacks and many poor whites began to
decrease. Starting with Mississippi in 1890, through 1910 the
former Confederate states passed new constitutions or amendments
that effectively disfranchised most blacks and tens of thousands of
poor whites through a combination of poll taxes, literacy and
comprehension tests, and residency and record-keeping requirements.
permitted some illiterate whites to vote. Voter turnout dropped
drastically through the South as a result of such measures.
Denied the ability to vote, blacks and poor whites could not serve
on juries or in local office. They could not influence the state
legislatures, and, predictably, their interests were overlooked.
While public schools had been established by Reconstruction
legislatures, those for black children were consistently
underfunded, even within the strained finances of the South. The
decreasing price of cotton kept the agricultural economy at a
In some cases Progressive measures to reduce election fraud acted
against black and poor white voters who were illiterate. While the
separation of African Americans from the general population was
becoming legalized and formalized in the Progressive Era
(1890s–1920s), it was also
becoming customary. Even in cases in which Jim Crow laws did not
expressly forbid black people to participate, for instance, in
sports or recreation or church services, the laws shaped a
In the Jim Crow context, the presidential election
was steeply slanted against the interests of Black
Americans. Most blacks were still in the South, where they had been
effectively disfranchised, so they could not vote at all. While
and literacy requirements
banned many Americans from voting, these stipulations frequently
had loopholes that exempted White Americans from meeting the
requirements. In Oklahoma, for
instance, anyone qualified to vote prior to 1866, or related to
someone qualified to vote prior to 1866, was exempted from the
literacy requirement; the only Americans who could vote prior to
that year were of course White Americans, such that all White
Americans were effectively excluded from the literacy testing,
whereas all Black Americans were effectively singled out by the
, a southern Democrat
and the first southern-born president of the postwar period,
appointed southerners to his cabinet. Some quickly began to press
for segregated work places, although Washington, DC and federal
offices had been integrated since after the Civil War. In 1913, for
instance, the acting Secretary
of the Treasury
—an appointee of the President
—was heard to express his consternation
at black and white women working together in one government office:
"I feel sure that this must go against the grain of the white
women. Is there any reason why the white women should not have only
white women working across from them on the machines?"
President Woodrow Wilson introduced segregation in Federal offices,
despite much protest. Mr. Wilson appointed Southern politicians who
were segregationists, because of his firm belief that racial
segregation was in the best interest of Black Americans and White
Americans alike. At Gettysburg
on 4 July
1913, the semi-centennial of Abraham
's declaration that "all
men are created equal
", Wilson addressed the crowd:
A Washington Bee
editorial wondered if the "reunion" of
1913 was a reunion of those who fought for "the extinction of
slavery" or a reunion of those who fought to "perpetuate slavery
and who are now employing every artifice and argument known to
deceit" to present emancipation as a failed venture. One historian
notes that the "Peace Jubilee" at which Wilson presided at
Gettysburg in 1913 "was a Jim Crow reunion, and white supremacy
might be said to have been the silent, invisible master of
ceremonies."See also Great
Reunion of 1913
Early attempts to break Jim Crow
The Civil Rights Act of
, introduced by Charles
and Benjamin F.
, stipulated a guarantee
that everyone, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of
servitude, was entitled to the same treatment in public
accommodations, such as inns, public transportation, theaters, and
other places of recreation. This Act had little impact. A 19th c.
Supreme Court decision ruled that the act was unconstitutional in
some respects, saying Congress was not afforded control over
private persons or corporations. With white southern Democrats
forming a solid bloc in Congress with power out of proportion to
the percentage of population they represented, Congress did not
pass another civil rights law until 1957.
In 1890, Louisiana passed a law requiring separate accommodations
for colored and white passengers on railroads. Louisiana law
distinguished between "white," "black" and "colored" (that is,
people of mixed white and black ancestry). The law already
specified that blacks could not ride with white people, but colored
people could ride with whites prior to 1890. A group of concerned
black, colored and white citizens in New Orleans formed an association dedicated to rescinding the
The group persuaded Homer
, who was only one-eighth "Negro" and of fair complexion,
to test it.
In 1892, Plessy purchased a first-class ticket from New Orleans on
the East Louisiana Railway. Once he had boarded the train, he
informed the train conductor of his racial lineage and took a seat
in the whites-only car. He was directed to leave that car and sit
instead in the "coloreds only" car. Plessy refused and was
immediately arrested. The Citizens Committee of New Orleans fought
the case all the way to the Supreme Court of
the United States.
They lost in Plessy v. Ferguson
(1896), in which the Court
ruled that "separate but equal" facilities were constitutional. The
finding contributed to 58 more years of legalized discrimination
against black and colored people in the United States.
Racism in the United States and defenses of Jim Crow
In addition to the problems that Southerners encountered in
learning free labor management after the end of slavery, Black
Americans represented the Confederacy
's Civil War
defeat: "With white supremacy
challenged throughout the
South, many whites sought to protect their former status by
threatening African Americans who exercised their new rights."
White Democrats used their power to segregate public spaces and
facilities in law and reestablish dominance over blacks in the
One rationale for the systematic exclusion of Black Americans from
southern public society was that it was for their own protection.
An early 20th century scholar suggested that having allowed Blacks
in White schools would mean "constantly subjecting them to adverse
feeling and opinion", which might lead to "a morbid race
consciousness". This perspective took anti-Black sentiment for
granted, because bigotry was widespread in the South.
World War II era
The cafe has two entry doors: "White"
After World War II
, African Americans
increasingly challenged segregation as they believed they had more
than earned the right to be treated as full citizens because of
their military service and sacrifices. The Civil Rights
movement was energized by a number of flashpoints, including the
attack on WWII veteran Isaac Woodard
while he was in U.S. Army
uniform. As the Civil Rights Movement gained
momentum and used federal courts to attack Jim Crow statutes, the
white-dominated governments of many of the southern states
countered with passing alternative forms of restrictions.
Legal Defense Committee (a group
that became independent of the NAACP) — and its lawyer, Thurgood Marshall
— brought the landmark
case Brown v.
Board of Education of
, before the Supreme Court. In its pivotal 1954
decision, the Court unanimously overturned the 1896 Plessy
ruling. decision. The Supreme Court found that
legally mandated (de jure
school segregation was unconstitutional. The decision had
far-reaching social ramifications. De jure
not brought to a final end until the 1970s. History has shown that
problems of educating poor children are not confined to minority
status, and states and cities have continued to grapple with
The court ruling did not stop de
or residentially based school segregation. Such
segregation continues today in many regions. Some city school
systems have also begun to focus on issues of economic and class
segregation rather than racial segregation, as they have found that
problems are more prevalent when the children of the poor of any
ethnic group are concentrated.
Associate Justice Frank Murphy introduced the word "racism" into
the lexicon of U.S. Supreme Court opinions in Korematsu v.
323 U.S. 214
(1944). He stated that by upholding the
forced relocation of Japanese
during World War II
Court was sinking into "the ugly abyss
racism." This was the first time that "racism" was used in Supreme
Court opinion (Murphy used it twice in a concurring opinion in
v. Louisville &
Nashville R. Co.
(1944) issued that same day).
Murphy used the word in five separate opinions, but after he left
the court, "racism" was not used again in an opinion for almost two
decades. It next appeared in the landmark decision of Loving v. Virginia
Interpretation of the Constitution and its application to minority
rights continues to be controversial as Court membership changes.
Some observers believe the Court has become more protective of the
End of Jim Crow
In the 20th century, the Supreme Court began to overturn Jim Crow
laws on constitutional grounds. In Buchanan v. Warley 245 US 60 (1917), the court
held that a Kentucky law could
not require residential segregation.
The Supreme Court in
1946, in Irene Morgan v.
ruled segregation in
interstate transportation to be unconstitutional, in an application
of the commerce clause
Constitution. It was not until 1954 in Brown v. Board
of Education of Topeka
347 US 483 that the court held that
separate facilities were inherently unequal in the area of public
schools, effectively overturning Plessy v.
, and outlawing Jim Crow in other areas of society
as well. This landmark case consisted of complaints filed in the
states of Delaware (Gebhart
South Carolina (Briggs v.
School Board of Prince Edward County); and Washington,
Bolling v. C.
decisions, along with other cases such as McLaurin v.
State Board of Regents
339 US 637 (1950), NAACP v. Alabama
357 US 449 (1958), and
Boynton v. Virginia
364 US 454 (1960), slowly
dismantled the state-sponsored segregation imposed by Jim Crow
In addition to Jim Crow laws, in which the state compelled
segregation of the races, businesses, political parties, unions and
other private parties created their own Jim Crow arrangements,
barring blacks from buying homes in certain neighborhoods, from
shopping or working in certain stores, from working at certain
trades, etc. The Supreme Court outlawed some forms of private
discrimination in Shelley
US 1 (1948), in which it held that "restrictive covenants" that
barred sale of homes to blacks or Jews
were unconstitutional, on the
grounds that they represented state-sponsored discrimination, in
that they were only effective if the courts enforced them.
The Supreme Court was unwilling, however, to attack other forms of
private discrimination. It reasoned that private parties did not
violate the Equal Protection
of the Constitution when they discriminated, because they were not
"state actors" covered by that clause.
In 1971, the Supreme Court, in Swann
Board of Education
, upheld desegregation busing
of students to
' 1955 act of civil disobedience
, in which she refused
to give up her seat on a bus to a white man, was a catalyst in
later years of the Civil
. Her action, and the demonstrations which it
stimulated, led to a series of legislative and court decisions that
contributed to undermining the Jim Crow system.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
led by Reverend Martin Luther
, which followed Rosa Parks' action, was, however, not
the first of its kind. Numerous boycotts and demonstrations against
segregation had occurred throughout the 1930s and 1940s. These
early demonstrations achieved positive results and helped spark
political activism. K. Leroy Irvis of Pittsburgh's Urban League, for instance, led a demonstration
against employment discrimination by Pittsburgh's department stores
in 1947, launching his own influential political
End of de jure segregation
In January 1964, President Lyndon
met with civil rights leaders. On January 8
, during his first State of the Union address
asked Congress to "let this session of Congress be known as the
session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred
sessions combined." On June 21, civil
rights workers Michael Schwerner,
Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, disappeared in Neshoba
The three were volunteers aiding in the
registration of African-American voters as part of the Mississippi Summer Project
Forty-four days later, the Federal
Bureau of Investigation recovered their bodies, which had been buried in an
The Neshoba County deputy sheriff, Cecil Price
and 16 others, all Ku Klux Klan
members, were indicted for the
crimes; seven were convicted.
Building a coalition of northern Democrats and Republicans,
President Lyndon B. Johnson
to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964
, President Johnson signed the historic
legislation. It invoked the commerce
to outlaw discrimination in public accommodations
(privately owned restaurants, hotels, and stores, and in private
schools and workplaces). This use of the commerce clause was upheld
in Heart of
Atlanta Motel v. United States
379 US 241 (1964).
By 1965 concerted efforts to break the grip of state
disfranchisement had been under way for some time, but had achieved
only modest success overall and in some areas had proved almost
entirely ineffectual. The murder of voting-rights activists in
Philadelphia, Mississippi, gained national attention, along with numerous
other acts of violence and terrorism against the president.
attack on March 7, 1965, by state troopers on peaceful marchers
crossing the Edmund
Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, en route to the state capitol in Montgomery, persuaded the President and Congress to overcome
Southern legislators' resistance to effective voting rights
President Johnson issued a call for a strong
voting rights law and hearings began soon thereafter on the bill
that would become the Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act
ended legally sanctioned state barriers to voting for all federal,
state and local elections. It also provided for Federal oversight
and monitoring of counties with historically low voter turnout, as
this was a sign of discriminatory barriers.
The Supreme Court of the United States held in the Civil Rights Cases
109 US 3 (1883)
that the Fourteenth Amendment did not give the federal government
the power to outlaw private discrimination, and then held in
Plessy v. Ferguson
163 US 537 (1896) that Jim
Crow laws were constitutional as long as they allowed for "separate
but equal" facilities. In the years that followed, the court made
this "separate but equal" requirement a hollow phrase by upholding
discriminatory laws in the face of evidence of profound
inequalities in practice.
Jim Crow laws were a product of the solidly
. Conservative white Southern Democrats,
exploiting racial fear and attacking the corruption (real or
perceived) of Reconstruction Republican
took over state governments in the South in the 1870s and dominated
them for nearly 100 years, chiefly as a result of
disenfranchisement of most blacks through statute and
constitutions. In 1956, southern resistance to the Supreme Court's
ruling in Brown v. Board of Education
a resolution called the Southern
. It was read into the Congressional Record and
supported by 96 southern congressmen and senators, all but two of
them southern Democrats.
The Jim Crow laws were a major factor in the Great Migration
during the early part of the 20th century, because opportunities
were so limited in the South that African Americans moved in great
numbers to northern cities to seek a better life.
While African-American entertainers, musicians, and literary
figures had broken into the white world of American art and culture
after 1890, African-American athletes found obstacles confronting
them at every turn. By 1900, white opposition to African-American
boxers, baseball players, track athletes, and basketball players
kept them segregated and limited in what they could do. But their
prowess and abilities in all-African-American teams and sporting
events could not be denied. Changing social attitudes and
leadership by pioneers such as Jackie
, who entered formerly all-white professional baseball
in 1947, aided in lowering the barriers. African-American
participation in all the major sports began to increase rapidly in
the 1950s and 1960s.
University in Big Rapids, Michigan houses the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia,
an extensive collection of everyday items that promoted racial
segregation or presented racial stereotypes of African Americans, for the purpose of
academic research and education about their cultural
Examples of Jim Crow laws
Examples of Jim Crow laws are shown at the National Park Service website
.The examples include anti-miscegenation laws
sometimes counted among "Jim Crow laws" of the South, such laws
were also passed by other states. Anti-miscegenation laws were not
repealed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but were declared
unconstitutional by the 1967 Supreme Court ruling in Loving v. Virginia
- Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Woodward, C. Vann and McFeely, William S. The Strange
Career of Jim Crow. 2001, page 7
- Craigie, Willaim A., Sir, and James R. Hulbert, eds. A
Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles, 4 vols.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938-1944.
- Woodward, C. Vann and McFeely, William S. The Strange
Career of Jim Crow. 2001, page 6
- Tomlins, Christopher L. The United States Supreme Court:
The Pursuit of Justice. 2005, page 195
- King, Desmond. Separate and Unequal: Black Americans and
the US Federal Government. 1995, page 3.
- Schulte Nordholt, J. W. and Rowen, Herbert H. Woodrow
Wilson: A Life for World Peace. 1991, page 99-100.
- Gates, Henry Louis and Appiah,
Anthony. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and
African American Experience. 1999, page 1211.
- Murphy, Edgar Gardner. The Problems of the Present
South. 1910, page 37.
- Full text of Korematsu v. United States opinion
courtesy of Findlaw.com.
- Steele v. Louisville, full text of the opinion
courtesy of Findlaw.com.
- * Lopez, Ian F. Haney, "A nation of minorities":
race, ethnicity, and reactionary colorblindness, Stanford Law
Review, February 1, 2007.
- LBJ for Kids CIVIL RIGHTS DURING THE JOHNSON
- See generally, Lopez, Ian F. Haney, "A
nation of minorities: race, ethnicity, and reactionary
colorblindness", Stanford Law Review, 01-FEB-07.
- United States Department of Justice
Introduction To Federal Voting Rights Laws
- Jim Crow Museum, Ferris State University, Detroit
- Ayers, Edward L. The Promise of the New South Oxford
University Press, 1992, a general history of the South in the late
- Barnes, Catherine A. Journey from Jim Crow: The
Desegregation of Southern Transit Columbia University Press,
- Bartley, Numan V. The Rise of Massive Resistance: Race and
Politics in the South during the 1950s Louisiana State University
- Bond, Horace Mann. “The Extent and Character of Separate
Schools in the United States.” Journal of Negro Education
4(July 1935):321–27. online via JSTOR
- Gabriel Chin & Hrishi Karthikeyan, Preserving Racial
Identity: Population Patterns and the Application of
Anti-Miscegenation Statutes to Asians, 1910 to 1950, 9 Asian L.J. 1 (2002)
- Campbell, Nedra. "More Justice, More Peace: The Black Person's
Guide to the American Legal System" Lawrence Hill Books; Chicago
Review Press], 2003, which includes in its chapter "Free at Last" a
chronology of laws during the Jim Crow era. ISBN 1-55652-468-4
- Jane Dailey, Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, and Bryant Simon, eds.
Jumpin' Jim Crow: Southern Politics from Civil War to Civil
Rights (2000), essays by scholars on impact of Jum Crow on
- Fairclough, Adam. “‘Being in the Field of Education and Also
Being a Negro…Seems…Tragic’: Black Teachers in the Jim Crow South.”
Journal of American
History 87 (June 2000): 65–91. online via JSTOR
- Feldman, Glenn. Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama,
of Alabama Press, 1999.
- Harvey Fireside, Separate and Unequal: Homer Plessy and the
Supreme Court Decision That Legalized Racism, 2004. ISBN
- Eric Foner Reconstruction, America's Unfinished Revolution,
1863-1877: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877
(Harpercollins, 1988), ISBN
0-06-015851-4, standard history of Reconstruction from neoabolitionist school
- Gaines, Kevin. Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership,
Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century University of
North Carolina Press, 1996.
- Gaston, Paul M. The New South Creed: A Study in Southern
Mythmaking Alfred A. Knopf, 1970.
- Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore; Gender and Jim Crow Women and the
Politics ... in North Carolina, 1896-1920 (1996)
- Griffin, John Howard
Black Like Me by (Signet,
1996) ISBN 0-451-19203-6. Author leaves privileged life as Southern
white man and darkens his skin to experience segregation in the
Deep South in 1959.
- Haws, Robert, ed. The Age of Segregation: Race Relations in
the South, 1890– 1945 University Press of
- Sheldon Hackney, Populism to Progressivism in Alabama
- Johnson, Charles S. Patterns of Negro Segregation
Harper and Brothers, 1943.
- Michael J. Klarman; From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The
Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality Oxford University Press, 2004
- Leon F. Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the
Age of Jim Crow (Alfred A. Knopf: 1998) "This is the most
complete and moving account we have had of what the victims of the
Jim Crow South suffered and somehow endured" — C. Vann
- Lopez, Ian F. Haney, "A nation of minorities": race, ethnicity,
and reactionary colorblindness, Stanford Law Review, February 1,
- Kantrowitz, Stephen. Ben Tillman & the Reconstruction
- McMillen, Neil R. Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the
Age of Jim Crow. University of Illinois Press,
- Medley, Keith Weldon. We As Freemen: Plessy v.
Ferguson by Pelican Publishing Company, March, 2003. ISBN
1-58980-120-2. Popular story of Homer Plessy, who lost his case
before the Supreme Court; the case legalized segregation in the
U.S. for the next 58 years.
- Murray, Pauli. States' Law on Race and Color University of Georgia Press, 2d
ed. 1997 (Davison Douglas ed.). ISBN 978-0820318837
- Myrdal, Gunnar. An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and
Modern Democracy Harper and Row,
1944. the most detailed analysis of the Jim Crow system in
- Percy, William Alexander. Lanterns on the Levee:
Recollections of a Planter's Son. 1941. Reprint, Louisiana State University
Press, 1993. by conservative white planter
- Rabinowitz, Howard N. Race Relations in the Urban South,
- Smith, J. Douglas. Managing: Race, Politics, and
Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia University of North Carolina
- Smith, J. Douglas. “The Campaign for Racial Purity and the
Erosion of Paternalism in Virginia, 1922–1930: “Nominally White,
Biologically Mixed, and Legally Negro.’” Journal of Southern History
68 (February 2002): 65–106.
- Smith, J. Douglas. “Patrolling the Boundaries of Race: Motion
Picture Censorship and Jim Crow in Virginia, 1922–1932.”
Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television 21
(August 2001): 273–91.
- Sterner, Richard. The Negro's Share (1943) detailed
- Woodward, C. Vann. The Strange Career of Jim Crow
(1955) the classic history by Pulitzer prize winner.
- Woodward, C. Vann. The Origins of the New South: