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        For more than 200 years before the Civil War, slavery existed in the United States.  But after the war things began to get worse for blacks.  The south thought they needed to do something.  The Southern legislatures, former confederates, passed laws known as the black codes, after the war, which severely limited the rights of blacks and segregated them from whites.


        Now before there was no need to separate whites and blacks because 95% of blacks were slaves.  But they were separated at schools, theaters, taverns, and other public places.  So, Congress quickly responded to these laws in 1866 and seized the initiative in remaking the south.  Republicans wanted to ensure that with the remaking the south, freed blacks were made viable members of society.  But the strong southern legislatures finally gave in; in 1868 they repealed most of the laws that discriminated against blacks.


        Things were starting to look up.  But by 1877 Democratic parties regained their power of the south and ended reconstruction.  This was devastating to the blacks.  After all the strides they made were reversed.  From holding political offices, the right to vote, and participating as equal members of society was changed.


        The south gradually reinstated the racially discriminatory laws.  The two main goals they wanted these laws to achieve: disenfranchisement and segregation.  To take away the power that the blacks had gained, the Democratic Party began to stop Blacks from voting.


        There were many ways to stop blacks from voting.  Some of these things were poll taxes, fees were charged at voting booths and were expensive for most blacks, and the literacy test.  Since teaching blacks were illegal, most adult blacks were former slaves and illiterate.  And the other goal, segregation, causes the democrats to create laws that segregated the schools and public facilities.


        In addition, the civil rights case of 1883 the Supreme Court declared that congress had no power to prevent private acts of discrimination.

          “When a man has emerged from slavery, and by the aid of beneficent legislation …. There must be some stage in the process of his elevation when takes the rank of a mere citizen or, a man, ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen, or a man, are to be protected in the ordinary models by which other men’s rights are protected.”

- Justice Joseph Bradley

        And with that ruling and other cases like Plessy vs. Ferguson and Williams vs. Mississippi they could stop blacks from voting and segregation could be done.  For example in1896 as much as130, 344 blacks were registered to vote in Louisiana; but in the 1900’s the new Louisiana Constitution reduced that to 5,320.  And in Alabama 3,000 out of 180,000 were registered to vote at the voting age in the 1900’s.  The blacks were becoming the “special targets” of the law.


        By the 1900’s the southern legislators carried segregation to the extremes.  Here are some of the years and states where it started:


  • 1914: Louisiana required separate entrances for blacks and whites.

  • 1915: Oklahoma segregated telephone booths.

  • 1920: Mississippi made it a crime to advocate or publish “arguments or suggestions in favor of social equalities or of interracial between whites and Negro’s”.

  • Arkansas had segregation at racetracks.

  • Texas prohibited integrated boxing matches.

  •  Kentucky required separate schools, and also that no textbook would be issued to a black would ever be reissued or redistributed, they also prohibited interracial marriage.

  •  Georgia bared black ministers from performing a marriage between white couples.

  •  New Orleans created segregated red light districts for white and blacks prostitutes.


        When the U.S. entered WW II the south was a fully segregated society.  Everything from schools, restaurants, hotels, train cars, waiting rooms, elevators, public bathrooms, colleges, hospitals, cemetery, swimming pools, drinking fountains, prisons, and even churches were for whites or blacks but never for both.


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        Segregation was supported by the legal system and police.  But beyond the law there was always a threat by terrorist violence.  The Ku Klux Klan, Knights of White Camellia, and other terrorists murdered thousands of blacks and some whites to prevent them from voting and participating in public life. 

        The KKK was founded in 1865 to 1866.  They directed their violence towards black landowners, politicians, and community leaders.  They also did this to people who supported Republicans or racial equalities.  

        One of the main forms of violence was lynching.  Between 1884 and the 1900 white mobs lynched more than 2,000 blacks in the South. They were also lynched for any violation of the southern code.  They also burned them alive, shot them, or beat them to death.

Jim Crow Laws

        The Jim Crow was a system of laws and customs that enforced racial segregation and discrimination throughout the United States, especially in the South, from the late 19th century through the 1960’s.  The laws did not specifically mention race, but were written and applied in a way that discriminated against African Americans.  

        The tradition of Jim Crow began in February 1843, when a group of four white men from Virginia, billed as the “Virginia Minstrel”, applied black cork to their faces and performed a song-and-dance act in a small hall in New York City.  The performance was such a success that the group was invited to tour to other cities and imitators sprang up immediately. These troops were successors to individual performers who imitated Negro singing and dancing.  

        But it was not until after Radical Reconstruction ended in 1877 that the Jim Crow was born.  Jim Crow grew slowly.  In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, many African Americans still enjoyed the rights granted in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, along with the 1875 Civil Rights Act.  Blacks and Whites rode together in the same railway cars, ate in the same restaurants, used the same public facilities, but did not interact as equals.  That was about to change altogether.  

        In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional and ruled that the 14th Amendment did not prohibit individuals and private organizations from discriminating on the basis of race, hence the southern slogan “separate but equal”.  This ruling was the start of legalized racial segregation.  Laws were enacted that restricted all aspects of life and varied from state to state.  Some states said that such laws were written to “protect” both races.  

        Crow extended to deny private as well as public, or civil, rights to all African Americans.  They were denied all social forms of respect.  Whites addressed even black adults as “boy”, and all blacks were expected to show difference to all whites.  Signs reading “Whites Only” or “Colored” hung over drinking fountains and doors to almost every public place.   

        By 1914 every Southern state had passed laws that created two separate societies: one black, the other white.  The combination of constant humiliation, dismal economic opportunities, and segregated education for their children made thousands of African Americans leave the South in the Jim Crow era.  Blacks and whites could not ride together in the same railroad cars, sit in the same restaurants, or sit in the same theaters.  Blacks were denied access to parks, beaches, picnic areas, and from many hospitals.  

        There was segregation in hotels, stores, entertainment, and libraries.  All this fueling an atmosphere of racism and a rise in lynching, rioting, and the Ku Klux Klan.   

        Blacks, particularly in the South, faced discrimination in jobs and housing, and were often denied their constitutional right to vote through literacy tests and poll taxes administered with informal loopholes and trick questions.  Some states had curfews for African Americans, and sometimes they were restricted from even working in the same room as whites.  

        Different court cases, particularly in the 1940’s cases, Sweat v. Paiter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma, broke down the “separate but equal” standard.  Then finally outlawed state-sponsored segregation in 1954’s Brown v. Topeka Board of Education ruling.   

        This ruling led to an assortment of legal suits, mass sit-ins, and boycotts to hasten desegregation, mostly contributed by members of the NAACP (National Association of the Advancement of Colored People)  

        But despite victories against segregation and discrimination, African Americans continued to face unequal opportunities, and new approaches, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and the Black Power Movement, was the definite ending to the Jim Crow Laws.  

Civil Rights Movement

        Segregation was made difficult because of violence and the power of state governments.  Blacks tried to fight segregation in many ways like at the ballot boxes, in the courtrooms, and through organizations like the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People.  Which was founded in 1909.  After the Civil Rights Act of 1883, blacks held meetings.  Frederick Douglas gave speeches at large protest; he made groups like Brotherhood of Liberty to plan legal and political action against segregation.  
        People of black color, groups of mixed African American, and European ancestry joined together to fight segregation of trains in New Orleans. In 1905 a number of Black activists, led by W.E.B. Dubois, the first African American to receive a doctorial degree from Harvard University, met in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada to plan strategies to fight racial equality.  By 1909 they were called the Niagara Movement, which led to the NAACP.  The National Association of the Advancement of Colored People began to challenge segregation in court.  Before World War 2, there were some significant victories.  Guinn v. the United States (1915), Buchanan v. Warley (1917), and Gaines v. Canada (1937) were only a few.  During the World War 2 and after challenges to segregation became more and more successful.  
        The three major factors that contributed to the Civil Rights Movement was the Great Migration, the changing nature of African American politics, and the social and cultural changes connected to war itself.  

Black and Politics

        Blacks loyally voted for republicans until the 1920’s.  The Republican presidents awarded them with small amounts of patronage.  Some Republicans remained loyal supporters of civil rights for blacks.  But the Democratic Party remained dominated by the Southern, segregationist wing.  Woodrow Wilson ordered the segregation of all federal facilities in Washington D.C. after he became president.

        To show how much the Roosevelt’s hated segregation, Franklin appointed blacks to high offices.  But he was not the only one.  William Hastie appointed the first black federal judge, and Eleanor Roosevelt invited the National Council of Negro Women to have tea.  Her most important act against segregation was when she resigned from the Daughters of America Revolution when they refused to allow an opera singer, Marian Anderson, to give a concert because she was black.  

        But things started to turn in the 1930’s when Northern blacks increasingly voted for Democrats instead of the Republicans.  The turn began in 1934 when Arthur W. Mitchell became the first black Democrat in the history of Congress.

Social Changes and Challenges

        The final attempt to reinstate the Civil Rights Movement was World War II.  The Holocaust led some Americans to realize racism could be a threat to Democracy.  Roosevelt’s Administration prohibited segregation on all military bases.

        One of the first challenges was in 1945’s Branch Rickey manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, realized that segregation in MLB was morally wrong.  So he signed Jackie Robinson, who was an officer during the war.  His first year playing he played for the Dodge Minor League.  They recruited many more blacks and soon they became stars to whites and blacks alike.  


         In 1903 W.E.B. DuBois wrote that the single greatest issue of the 20th century would be the “color line”.  To a great extent he was correct.  By the end of the century segregation was over due mostly in part by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.  Racial discrimination is illegal everywhere, yet few blacks are prominent and powerful.  Even though the American society still remains segregated, laws no longer permitted discrimination.  As Mrs. L.C. Bates, the state president for the NAACP commented,  

“We are happy the court ruled for the rights of all people!”


Jim Crow Laws. http://www.sju.edu/~brokes/jimcrow.htm

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