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

Monday, February 25, 2008


Mechanization is the term used to describe the new form of manufacturing in the late 19th century. Due to this process, called "Mass Production" by Henry Ford, "workers increasingly lost the proud independence characteristic of the nineteenth-century craft work." (America, Pg. 523) This was because machines such as the typewriter or bicycle, were made using standardized parts created by machine tools. These machine tools were operated by machinists. What mechanization led to was the creation of "dedicated machines--machines set up to the same job over and over without the need for skilled operatives." (America, pg. 523) Instead of creating machines, machinists were made to create a single part many times over. "With each advance the quest for efficiency eroded their cherished autonomy, diminishing them and cutting them down to fit the industrial system." (America, pg. 524) Mechanization inspired Frederick W. Taylor, and was a basis for scientific management.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pullman Strike, 1894

The Pullman Strike of 1894
In May 11, 1894, workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company, which manufactured the famous Pullman sleeping railroad cars, staged a walkout. The basis of this walkout was the fact that George Pullman was cutting wages but not the rent on the company-owned housing. The workers were members of the American Railway Union (ARU), headed by Eugene V. Debs (see post on Debs). Debs directed all ARU members not to handle any of the Pullman cars, an action that not only hurt the Pullman company, but had a secondary and even bigger effect of crippling the railroad industry. The strike continued until mid-July when both the boycott and the union were broken, but not without violence and vandalism. Government soldiers were brought in to get the trains running again. Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to prison for his part in the strike. Although the new ARU had strength and a lot of members, they were not successful in their strike due to the government's intervention on the side of the railroad companies.

"No one could doubt why the great Pullman boycott had failed: it had been crushed by the naked use of government power on behalf of the railroad companies." (America, p. 531)

Eugene V. Debs

Eugene V. Debs

"A spellbinding campaigner, Debs talked socialism in an American idiom, making Marxism understandable and persuasive to many ordinary citizens." (America, p. 532)

Eugene V. Debs is known for his role in making Marxist socialism appealing to the American people. His union involvement began in 1880 when he worked for a craft union for skilled workers in the railroad industry. He then moved on to work with the American Railway Union, an industrial union (industrial unions organized all workers, not just skilled workers). After a 6- month stay in prison for his involvement in the Pullman strike (see post entitled "Pullman Strike"), Debs became a radical and a Socialist.
In 1901, Debs helped start the Socialist Party of America and devoted the rest of his life to the propagation of socialism in the United States. He was the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party five times. As is stated in the quote above, Debs was a convincing speaker and knew how to take Marx's ideas of a revolution to abolish private ownership and the establishment of a classless society and make them easy for the people of the U.S. to understand and accept. His intense devotion to socialism and his tireless efforts to propagate it in this country strengthened the influence of socialism in the U.S.