Brief History of Jim Crow

In 1885, a journalist, McCants Stewart toured the South because he feared for freedmen’s liberty. In 1868 the 14th Amendment gave black men full citizenship and promised them equal protection under the law. Blacks voted, won elected office and served on juries. However, 10 years later, federal troops withdrew from the South, returning it to the local white rule. The Republican Party, champion of Reconstruction and freedmen’s rights, had fallen from national power. Would black people’s rights survive?

Jim Crow state laws passed in the South established different rules for blacks and whites. They were based on white supremacy and were a reaction to Reconstruction. In the depression era of the 1890s, racism appealed to whites who feared losing jobs to blacks.

In 1890, the Louisiana General Assembly passed a law to prevent black and white people from riding together on railroads. Plessy v. Ferguson, a case challenging the law, reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896. Upholding the law, the court said that public facilities for blacks and whites could be “separate but equal.” Soon, throughout the South, they had to be separate. In 1892, the court upheld a Mississippi law designed to deny black men to vote, by limiting the voting right to those who owned property or could read well. By 1896 only 1 percent of Louisiana’s registered black voters could pass the new rules.

In South Carolina, black and white textile workers could not work in the same room, enter through the same door or gaze out of the same window. Many industries wouldn’t hire blacks.

In Richmond, one could not live on a street unless most of the residents were people one could marry. (One could not marry someone of a different race.)

Prisons, hospitals, orphanages, schools and colleges were segregated.

Unwritten rules barred blacks from white jobs in NY and kept them out of white stores in Los Angeles. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan, used venom and violence to keep blacks “in their place.”

World War II changed America. The link between white supremacy and Hitler’s “master race” could not be ignored. In 1948, President Harry Truman took action to promote racial equality. He urged Congress to abolish the poll tax, enforce fair voting and hiring practices and end Jim Crow transportation between the states. Truman ordered the complete integration of the armed forces.

In 1950, the NAACP decided to challenge the concept of “separate but equal.” Black parents in South Carolina and Virginia sued to get their children into white schools. Federal courts upheld segregation.

On May 17, 1954, at the stroke of noon, the nine Supreme Court Justices announced their unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education. They held that racial segregation of children in public schools, even in schools of equal quality, hurt minority children. “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The practice violated the Constitution’s 14th amendment and must stop.

Source: Brief History of Jim Crow
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