In this lesson, we will learn about ‘Jim Crow’ Laws.
We will identify what they are, and we will highlight their significance in the aftermath of the Civil War and the 20th century.
What Are Jim Crow Laws?
Imagine what it was like to be a Southern slave living during the Civil War Era. Your hopes were aroused with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Even so, because you lived in the Confederate States of America, your master could care less about Lincoln’s executive order.
But at last, after two more long years, you experienced elation as the South surrendered to Union forces. At long last, you were free!Yet. . . as you made your way in this strange new world, everywhere you encountered local laws intended to prevent you from succeeding in life. These laws restricted the freedom you thought you had attained.
True, you were no longer a slave, but under some of these laws you weren’t free either.These laws were called Jim Crow laws. Okay, but who was Jim Crow? Even before the Civil War took place, the term Jim Crow was derogatory slang for ‘negro.
‘ It is believed that the origin of the term dates back to the 1820s or so when a white comedian wrote a song and dance called ‘Jump Jim Crow’ about a disabled slave. Soon the term caught on and, by the outbreak of the Civil War, was a common nickname for black slaves and free African-Americans.Jim Crow laws existed primarily between the end of the Civil War to the mid-1960s. They took many forms and varied considerably by locale, but segregation and discrimination were common themes. Let’s learn more about Jim Crow laws.
After the Civil War
The immediate aftermath of the Civil War is called Reconstruction, or the Reconstruction Era, which took place between 1865 and 1877. Southern Democrats were particularly active in passing Jim Crow laws in the aftermath of the Civil War. There was widespread resentment because the North had won the war and slaves were now free.
To maintain white dominance and keep free blacks from gaining affluence, they legislated varieties of Jim Crow laws. Many Jim Crow laws had to do with voting. For example, the ability to read was often held as voting requirement, and it was previously forbidden for slaves to read.
Land ownership was also a requirement in certain areas. These requirements were intended to prevent black Americans from voting and thus gaining political power. By the turn of the century, arbitrary requirements effectively barred black males from voting.Segregation was another key component of Jim Crow laws. Segregation refers to the policy of keeping black and white Americans separate from one another.
For example, this would involve separate drinking foundations for blacks and whites, separate bathrooms, schools, libraries, etc. Typically, the black facility was inferior due to a lack of funding and a lack of interest by the mainstream white community. In parts of Texas, for example, zoning ordinances kept black and white residents from living in the same area.
In 1875, the Enforcement Act, or the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed by ‘Radical Republicans’ in an effort to end Jim Crow laws. Unfortunately, the act was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883.
In the 20th Century
With the Supreme Court’s apparent sanctioning of racism in 1883, Jim Crow laws thrived well into the 20th century. On occasion they were challenged, as was the case in the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v.
Ferguson. In this case Homer Plessy, an African-American, took a seat in a ‘white only’ section of a train and refused to move. The Supreme Court ruled that ‘separate but equal’ segregation was, in fact, constitutional. This ruling led to another seventy years of Jim Crow laws.During the 1920s and 1930s, African-Americans began to embrace their own unique cultural identity, but nevertheless continued to suffer under arbitrary and racist laws. In the aftermath of World War II, the Civil Rights Movement finally brought an end to Jim Crow laws. This movement took place during the 1950s and 1960s, and aimed at establishing true, legal equality for African-Americans.
Among the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement was Martin Luther King, Jr.You’re probably familiar with some of the Civil Rights Era Jim Crow Laws. For example, you may know that Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of a Montgomery bus, where ‘colored’ people were supposed to sit. During the Civil Rights Movement, widespread acts of civil disobedience took place as many African-Americans refused to abide by Jim Crow laws. The chaotic turmoil that followed ultimately led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and made racial segregation and discrimination illegal.
Let’s review our key terms.
- The term Jim Crow is believed to have originated in the 1820s/30s. By the Civil War it had become a popular term for ‘negro.
- Reconstruction refers to the aftermath of the Civil War; it took place between 1865 and 1877.
- Southern Democrats were particularly active in passing Jim Crow laws in the aftermath of the Civil War.
- Segregation refers to the policy of keeping black and white Americans separate from one another.
- In 1875, the Enforcement Act, or the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed by ‘Radical Republicans’ in an effort to end Jim Crow laws. However, it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court within a few years.
- Plessy v. Ferguson was a Supreme Court case in which ‘separate but equal’ segregation was ruled constitutional.
- Jim Crow Laws were not finally abolished until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which effectively made segregation and discrimination illegal.