Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Jim Crow Laws

"The enforcing legislation, known as Jim Crow laws, soon applied to every type of public facility--restaurants, hotels, streetcars, even cemeteries. In the 1890s, the South became a region fully segregated by law for the first time" (America, pg. 586).

The "Jim Crow Laws" were a series of legislation, mostly passed in the south, at the local and state level. These laws made segregation of blacks and whites not only legal, but in certain instances--such as public schools and transportation--required. They began in the late nineteenth-century and continued all the way through until the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s. The laws mandated that blacks and whites have "separate but equal" facilities. However, the reality was that the black facilities were almost never "equal" to the white facilities and Jim Crow laws were simply a legal way to promote the perceived "inferiority" of blacks.

The term "Jim Crow" is derived from a popular minstrel show in the early-mid nineteenth-century, which featured a white performer with charcoal or burnt cork applied to his face, singing and dancing to the song "Jump Jim Crow," and in essence, portraying a ridiculous caricature of a black person. The character became a staple of minstrel theater and was a derogatory stereotype of blacks, which was beginning to become common in the period.

The famous Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 validated the South's Jim Crow laws, ruling that segregation was not discriminatory, and therefore did not violate any civil rights in the fourteenth amendment, as long as the segregation provided equal treatment to blacks--hence the term "separate but equal." Racism and discrimination was becoming more prevalent and more intense during the late nineteenth-century, and thus the Jim Crow Laws reflected the zeitgeist.

The History of Jim Crow: Creating Jim Crow
What was Jim Crow?
PBS: The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow

1 comment:

A. Mattson said...

A great post and quotations.

Jim Crow laws were state laws mandating segregation. You have described the origin of the name very well.

But what about the 14th Amendment? The issue here is one of "states rights" vs. the federal power to overturn unconstitutional laws.

The Plessy v. Ferguson decision is a key event. It set a precendent legitimizing segregation for the next 60 years.