Jim Crow (U.S. Apartheid)
Starting in the 1880s, states throughout the South passed
laws which economically favored European Americans, giving this group a huge,
controllable, and designated labor force and preventing African American
citizens from improving their status or achieving economic and social
Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-Black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-Black racism. Many Christian ministers and theologians taught that Whites were the Chosen people, Blacks were cursed to be servants, and God supported racial segregation. Craniologists, eugenicists, phrenologists, and Social Darwinists, at every educational level, buttressed the belief that Blacks were innately intellectually and culturally inferior to Whites. Pro-segregation politicians gave eloquent speeches on the great danger of integration: the mongrelization of the White race. Newspaper and magazine writers routinely referred to Blacks as niggers, coons, and darkies; and worse, their articles reinforced anti-Black stereotypes. Even children's games portrayed Blacks as inferior beings (see 'GAMES' below). All major societal institutions reflected and supported the oppression of Blacks.
The Jim Crow system was undergirded by the following beliefs or rationalizations: Whites were superior to Blacks in all important ways, including but not limited to intelligence, morality, and civilized behavior; sexual relations between Blacks and Whites would produce a mongrel race which would destroy America; treating Blacks as equals would encourage interracial sexual unions; any activity which suggested social equality encouraged interracial sexual relations; if necessary, violence must be used to keep Blacks at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. The following Jim Crow etiquette norms show how inclusive and pervasive these norms were:
a. A Black male could not offer his hand (to shake hands) with a White male because it implied being socially equal. Obviously, a Black male could not offer his hand or any other part of his body to a White woman, because he risked being accused of rape.
Stetson Kennedy, the author of Jim Crow Guide, offered these simple rules that Blacks were supposed to observe in conversing with Whites:
1. Never assert or even intimate that a White person is lying.
2. Never impute dishonorable intentions to a White person.
3. Never suggest that a White person is from an inferior class.
4. Never lay claim to, or overly demonstrate, superior knowledge or intelligence.
5. Never curse a White person.
6. Never laugh derisively at a White person.
7. Never comment upon the appearance of a White female.1
etiquette operated in conjunction with Jim Crow laws (black codes).
people think of Jim Crow they think of laws (not the Jim Crow etiquette) which
excluded Blacks from public transport and facilities, juries, jobs, and
neighborhoods. The passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the
Constitution had granted Blacks the same legal protections as Whites. However,
1877, and the election of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, southern and border
states began restricting the liberties of Blacks. Unfortunately for
Blacks, the Supreme Court helped undermine the Constitutional protections of
Blacks with the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) case, which legitimized Jim
Crow laws and the Jim Crow way of life.
In 1890, Louisiana passed the "Separate Car Law," which purported to aid passenger comfort by creating "equal but separate" cars for Blacks and Whites. This was a ruse. No public accommodations, including railway travel, provided Blacks with equal facilities. The Louisiana law made it illegal for Blacks to sit in coach seats reserved for Whites, and Whites could not sit in seats reserved for Blacks. In 1891, a group of Blacks decided to test the Jim Crow law. They had Homer A. Plessy, who was seven-eights White and one-eighth Black (therefore, Black), sit in the White-only railroad coach. He was arrested. Plessy's lawyer argued that Louisiana did not have the right to label one citizen as White and another Black for the purposes of restricting their rights and privileges. In Plessy, the Supreme Court stated that so long as state governments provided legal process and legal freedoms for Blacks, equal to those of Whites, they could maintain separate institutions to facilitate these rights. The Court, by a 7-2 vote, upheld the Louisiana law, declaring that racial separation did not necessarily mean an abrogation of equality. In practice, Plessy represented the legitimization of two societies: one White, and advantaged; the other, Black, disadvantaged and despised.
Blacks were denied the right to vote by grandfather clauses (laws that restricted the right to vote to people whose ancestors had voted before the Civil War), poll taxes (fees charged to poor Blacks), white primaries (only Democrats could vote, only Whites could be Democrats), and literacy tests ("Name all the Vice Presidents and Supreme Court Justices throughout America's history"). Plessy sent this message to southern and border states: Discrimination against Blacks is acceptable.
The Jim Crow laws and system of etiquette were undergirded by violence, real and threatened. Blacks who violated Jim Crow norms, for example, drinking from the White water fountain or trying to vote, risked their homes, their jobs, even their lives. Whites could physically beat Blacks with impunity. Blacks had little legal recourse against these assaults because the Jim Crow criminal justice system was all-White: police, prosecutors, judges, juries, and prison officials. Violence was instrumental for Jim Crow. It was a method of social control. The most extreme forms of Jim Crow violence were lynchings.
were public, often sadistic, murders carried out by mobs. Between 1882,
when the first reliable data were collected, and 1968, when lynchings had become
rare, there were 4,730 known lynchings, including 3,440 Black men
and women. Most of the victims of Lynch-Law were hanged or shot, but
some were burned at the stake, castrated, beaten with clubs, or
dismembered. In the mid-1800s, Whites constituted the majority of victims
(and perpetrators); however, by the period of Radical Reconstruction, Blacks
became the most frequent lynching victims. This is an early indication that
lynching was used as an intimidation tool to keep Blacks, in this case the
newly-freedmen, "in their places." The great majority of lynchings occurred in
southern and border states, where the resentment against Blacks ran deepest.
According to the social economist Gunnar Myrdal: "The southern states account
for nine-tenths of the lynchings. More than two thirds of the remaining
one-tenth occurred in the six states which immediately border the South."3
Many Whites claimed that although lynchings were distasteful, they were necessary supplements to the criminal justice system because Blacks were prone to violent crimes, especially the rapes of White women. Arthur Raper investigated nearly a century of lynchings and concluded that approximately one-third of all the victims were falsely accused.4
Under Jim Crow any and all sexual interactions between Black men and White women was illegal, illicit, socially repugnant, and within the Jim Crow definition of rape. Although only 19.2 percent of the lynching victims between 1882 to 1951 were even accused of rape, Lynch law was often supported on the popular belief that lynchings were necessary to protect White women from Black rapists. Myrdal refutes this belief in this way: "There is much reason to believe that this figure (19.2) has been inflated by the fact that a mob which makes the accusation of rape is secure from any further investigation; by the broad Southern definition of rape to include all sexual relations between Negro men and white women; and by the psychopathic fears of white women in their contacts with Negro men."5 Most Blacks were lynched for demanding civil rights, violating Jim Crow etiquette or laws, or in the aftermath of race riots.
Lynchings were most common in small and middle-sized towns where Blacks often were economic competitors to the local Whites. These Whites resented any economic and political gains made by Blacks. Lynchers were seldomly arrested, and if arrested, rarely convicted. Raper estimated that "at least one-half of the lynchings are carried out with police officers participating, and that in nine-tenths of the others the officers either condone or wink at the mob action."6 Lynching served many purposes: it was cheap entertainment; it served as a rallying, uniting point for Whites; it functioned as an ego-massage for low-income, low-status Whites; it was a method of defending White domination and helped stop or retard the fledgling social equality movement.
Lynch mobs directed their hatred
against one (sometimes several) victims. The victim was an example of what
happened to a Black man who tried to vote, or who looked at a White woman, or
who tried to get a White man's job. Unfortunately for Blacks, sometimes the mob
was not satisfied to murder a single or several victims. Instead, in the spirit
of pogroms, the mobs went into Black communities and destroyed additional lives
and property. Their immediate goal was to drive out -- through death or
expulsion -- all Blacks; the larger goal was to maintain, at all costs, White
supremacy. These pogrom-like actions are often referred to as riots;
however, Gunnar Myrdal was right when he described these "riots" as "a terrorization or
massacre...a mass lynching."7 Interestingly, these mass
lynchings were primarily urban phenomena, whereas the lynching of single victims
was primarily a rural phenomena.
James Weldon Johnson, the famous Black writer, labeled 1919 as "The Red Summer." It was red from racial tension; it was red from bloodletting. During the summer of 1919, there were race riots in Chicago, Illinois; Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee; Charleston, South Carolina; Omaha, Nebraska; and two dozen other cities. W.E.B. DuBois, the Black social scientist and civil rights activist, wrote: "During that year seventy-seven Negroes were lynched, of whom one was a woman and eleven were soldiers; of these, fourteen were publicly burned, eleven of them being burned alive. That year there were race riots large and small in twenty-six American cities including thirty-eight killed in a Chicago riot of August; from twenty-five to fifty in Phillips County, Arkansas; and six killed in Washington."8
The riots of 1919 were not the first or last "mass lynchings" of Blacks, as evidenced by the race riots in Wilmington, North Carolina (1898); Atlanta, Georgia (1906); Springfield, Illinois (1908); East St. Louis, Illinois (1917); Tulsa, Oklahoma (1921); and Detroit, Michigan (1943). Joseph Boskin, author of Urban Racial Violence, claimed that the riots of the 1900s had the following traits:
1. In each of the race riots, with few exceptions, it was White people that sparked the incident by attacking Black people.
2. In the majority of the riots, some extraordinary social condition prevailed at the time of the riot: prewar social changes, wartime mobility, post-war adjustment, or economic depression.
3. The majority of the riots occurred during the hot summer months.
4. Rumor played an extremely important role in causing many riots. Rumors of some criminal activity by Blacks against Whites perpetuated the actions of the White mobs.
5. The police force, more than any other institution, was invariably involved as a precipitating cause or perpetuating factor in the riots. In almost every one of the riots, the police sided with the attackers, either by actually participating in, or by failing to quell the attack.
6. In almost every instance, the fighting occurred within the Black community.9
Boskin omitted the following: the mass media,
especially newspapers often published inflammatory articles about "Black
criminals" immediately before the riots; Blacks were not only killed, but their
homes and businesses were looted, and many who did not flee were left homeless;
and, the goal of the White rioters, as was true of White lynchers of single
victims, was to instill fear and terror into Blacks, thereby
buttressing White domination. The Jim Crow hierarchy could not work without
violence being used against those on the bottom rung. George Fredrickson, a
historian, stated it this way: "Lynching represented...a way of using fear and
terror to check 'dangerous' tendencies in a black community considered to be
ineffectively regimented or supervised. As such it constituted a confession that
the regular institutions of a segregated society provided an inadequate measure
of day-to-day control."10
Many Blacks resisted the indignities of Jim Crow, and, far too often, they paid for their bravery with their lives.
© Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology Ferris State University Sept., 2000
Kennedy, Stetson. Jim Crow Guide: The Way It Was. Boca Raton: Florida Atlantic
University Press, 1959/1990, pp.216-117.
3 Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma. New York: 1944, pp. 560-561.
4 Myrdal, op. cit., .561.
5 Ibid., pp.561-562.
6 Arthur. A. Rapier, The Tragedy of Lynching. Chapel Hill, 1933, pp.13-14.
7 Myrdal, op.cit., p.566.
8 W.E.B. Dubois, Originally in Dust of Dawn. Cited here from DuBois: Writings, N. Huggins (ed). New York: Viking Press, 1986, p.747.
9 Joseph Boskin, Urban Racial Violence. Beverly Hills, 1976, pp.14-15.
10 George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image In The White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny 1817-1914. New York: Harper & Row, 1971, p.272.
Jim Crow ruled the South from about
1890 to well into the 1960s. Four generations of African Americas endured this system of
segregation. Present day race relations in the United States continue to
be affected by this history. The Jim Crow system emerged towards the end of the
historical period called Reconstruction, during which Congress had enacted laws
designed to order relations between Southern whites and newly freed blacks, and
to bring the secessionist states back into the Union. Southern whites felt
profoundly threatened by increasing claims by African Americans for social
equality and economic opportunity. In reaction, white-controlled state
legislatures passed laws designed to rob blacks of their civil rights and
prevent blacks from mingling with their "betters" in public
From the 1880s into the 1960s, a majority of American states enforced segregation through "Jim Crow" laws. From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated.
Here is a sampling of laws from various states.
Nurses No person or corporation shall require any white female nurse to nurse in wards or rooms in hospitals, either public or private, in which negro men are placed. Alabama
Buses All passenger stations in this state operated by any motor transportation company shall have separate waiting rooms or space and separate ticket windows for the white and colored races. Alabama
Railroads The conductor of each passenger train is authorized and required to assign each passenger to the car or the division of the car, when it is divided by a partition, designated for the race to which such passenger belongs. Alabama
Restaurants It shall be unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectually separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment. Alabama
Pool and Billiard Rooms It shall be unlawful for a negro and white person to play together or in company with each other at any game of pool or billiards. Alabama
Toilet Facilities, Male Every employer of white or negro males shall provide for such white or negro males reasonably accessible and separate toilet facilities. Alabama
Intermarriage The marriage of a person of Caucasian blood with a Negro, Mongolian, Malay, or Hindu shall be null and void. Arizona
Intermarriage All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the fourth generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited. Florida
Cohabitation Any negro man and white woman, or any white man and negro woman, who are not married to each other, who shall habitually live in and occupy in the nighttime the same room shall each be punished by imprisonment not exceeding twelve (12) months, or by fine not exceeding five hundred ($500.00) dollars. Florida
Education The schools for white children and the schools for negro children shall be conducted separately. Florida
Juvenile Delinquents There shall be separate buildings, not nearer than one fourth mile to each other, one for white boys and one for negro boys. White boys and negro boys shall not, in any manner, be associated together or worked together. Florida
Mental Hospitals The Board of Control shall see that proper and distinct apartments are arranged for said patients, so that in no case shall Negroes and white persons be together. Georgia
Intermarriage It shall be unlawful for a white person to marry anyone except a white person. Any marriage in violation of this section shall be void. Georgia
Barbers No colored barber shall serve as a barber [to] white women or girls. Georgia
Burial The officer in charge shall not bury, or allow to be buried, any colored persons upon ground set apart or used for the burial of white persons. Georgia
Restaurants All persons licensed to conduct a restaurant, shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to the two races within the same room or serve the two races anywhere under the same license. Georgia
Amateur Baseball It shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race. Georgia
Parks It shall be unlawful for colored people to frequent any park owned or maintained by the city for the benefit, use and enjoyment of white persons...and unlawful for any white person to frequent any park owned or maintained by the city for the use and benefit of colored persons. Georgia
Wine and Beer All persons licensed to conduct the business of selling beer or wine...shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to the two races within the same room at any time. Georgia
Reform Schools The children of white and colored races committed to the houses of reform shall be kept entirely separate from each other. Kentucky
Circus Tickets All circuses, shows, and tent exhibitions, to which the attendance of...more than one race is invited or expected to attend shall provide for the convenience of its patrons not less than two ticket offices with individual ticket sellers, and not less than two entrances to the said performance, with individual ticket takers and receivers, and in the case of outside or tent performances, the said ticket offices shall not be less than twenty-five (25) feet apart. Louisiana
Housing Any person...who shall rent any part of any such building to a negro person or a negro family when such building is already in whole or in part in occupancy by a white person or white family, or vice versa when the building is in occupancy by a negro person or negro family, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not less than twenty-five ($25.00) nor more than one hundred ($100.00) dollars or be imprisoned not less than 10, or more than 60 days, or both such fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court. Louisiana
The Blind The board of trustees shall...maintain a separate building...on separate ground for the admission, care, instruction, and support of all blind persons of the colored or black race. Louisiana
Intermarriage All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent, to the third generation, inclusive, or between a white person and a member of the Malay race; or between the negro and a member of the Malay race; or between a person of Negro descent, to the third generation, inclusive, and a member of the Malay race, are forever prohibited, and shall be void. Maryland
Railroads All railroad companies and corporations, and all persons running or operating cars or coaches by steam on any railroad line or track in the State of Maryland, for the transportation of passengers, are hereby required to provide separate cars or coaches for the travel and transportation of the white and colored passengers. Maryland
Education Separate schools shall be maintained for the children of the white and colored races. Mississippi
Promotion of Equality Any person...who shall be guilty of printing, publishing or circulating printed, typewritten or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and negroes, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fine or not exceeding five hundred (500.00) dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months or both. Mississippi
Intermarriage The marriage of a white person with a negro or mulatto or person who shall have one-eighth or more of negro blood, shall be unlawful and void. Mississippi
Hospital Entrances There shall be maintained by the governing authorities of every hospital maintained by the state for treatment of white and colored patients separate entrances for white and colored patients and visitors, and such entrances shall be used by the race only for which they are prepared. Mississippi
Prisons The warden shall see that the white convicts shall have separate apartments for both eating and sleeping from the negro convicts. Mississippi
Education Separate free schools shall be established for the education of children of African descent; and it shall be unlawful for any colored child to attend any white school, or any white child to attend a colored school. Missouri
Intermarriage All marriages between...white persons and negroes or white persons and Mongolians...are prohibited and declared absolutely void...No person having one-eighth part or more of negro blood shall be permitted to marry any white person, nor shall any white person be permitted to marry any negro or person having one-eighth part or more of negro blood. Missouri
Education Separate rooms [shall] be provided for the teaching of pupils of African descent, and [when] said rooms are so provided, such pupils may not be admitted to the school rooms occupied and used by pupils of Caucasian or other descent. New Mexico
Textbooks Books shall not be interchangeable between the white and colored schools, but shall continue to be used by the race first using them. North Carolina
Libraries The state librarian is directed to fit up and maintain a separate place for the use of the colored people who may come to the library for the purpose of reading books or periodicals. North Carolina
Militia The white and colored militia shall be separately enrolled, and shall never be compelled to serve in the same organization. No organization of colored troops shall be permitted where white troops are available, and while white permitted to be organized, colored troops shall be under the command of white officers. North Carolina
Transportation The...Utilities Commission...is empowered and directed to require the establishment of separate waiting rooms at all stations for the white and colored races. North Carolina
Teaching Any instructor who shall teach in any school, college or institution where members of the white and colored race are received and enrolled as pupils for instruction shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined in any sum not less than ten dollars ($10.00) nor more than fifty dollars ($50.00) for each offense. Oklahoma
Fishing, Boating, and Bathing The [Conservation] Commission shall have the right to make segregation of the white and colored races as to the exercise of rights of fishing, boating and bathing. Oklahoma
Mining The baths and lockers for the negroes shall be separate from the white race, but may be in the same building. Oklahoma
Telephone Booths The Corporation Commission is hereby vested with power and authority to require telephone companies...to maintain separate booths for white and colored patrons when there is a demand for such separate booths. That the Corporation Commission shall determine the necessity for said separate booths only upon complaint of the people in the town and vicinity to be served after due hearing as now provided by law in other complaints filed with the Corporation Commission. Oklahoma
Lunch Counters No persons, firms, or corporations, who or which furnish meals to passengers at station restaurants or station eating houses, in times limited by common carriers of said passengers, shall furnish said meals to white and colored passengers in the same room, or at the same table, or at the same counter. South Carolina
Child Custody It shall be unlawful for any parent, relative, or other white person in this State, having the control or custody of any white child, by right of guardianship, natural or acquired, or otherwise, to dispose of, give or surrender such white child permanently into the custody, control, maintenance, or support, of a negro. South Carolina
Libraries Any white person of such county may use the county free library under the rules and regulations prescribed by the commissioners court and may be entitled to all the privileges thereof. Said court shall make proper provision for the negroes of said county to be served through a separate branch or branches of the county free library, which shall be administered by [a] custodian of the negro race under the supervision of the county librarian. Texas
Education [The County Board of Education] shall provide schools of two kinds; those for white children and those for colored children. Texas
Theaters Every person...operating...any public hall, theatre, opera house, motion picture show or any place of public entertainment or public assemblage which is attended by both white and colored persons, shall separate the white race and the colored race and shall set apart and designate...certain seats therein to be occupied by white persons and a portion thereof , or certain seats therein, to be occupied by colored persons. Virginia
Railroads The conductors or managers on all such railroads shall have power, and are hereby required, to assign to each white or colored passenger his or her respective car, coach or compartment. If the passenger fails to disclose his race, the conductor and managers, acting in good faith, shall be the sole judges of his race. Virginia
Intermarriage All marriages of white persons with Negroes, Mulattos, Mongolians, or Malaya hereafter contracted in the State of Wyoming are and shall be illegal and void. Wyoming
Created by Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site Interpretive Staff. http://www.nps.gov/malu/documents/jim_crow_laws.htm
Audio: Black People's Day Charles Gratton, Ann
Pointer, Amelia Robinson, 1:44
From: From Hostility to Reverence: 100 Years of
African-American Imagery in Games Denis