An Overview of the Jim Crow Laws (Segregation/Voter Suppression)

[While reading this article, it is vital to understand that during this period in the 1870’s Democrats were more like modern day Republicans and vice versa…]

Jim Crow Laws spelled out a segregationist system implemented for the purpose of segregating blacks from whites in American Southern states in the 1880’s. In human terms, Jim Crow was an 1830’s minstrel show “black-face” caricature, portrayed as a crippled old black slave, for the purpose of inciting negative stereotypes against African Americans.

Formulation of the Jim Crow Laws occurred because white Southern Democrats were upset over the amount of power blacks had gained during the “Reconstruction” movement that occurred from 1865-1877 (following the Civil War). The Reconstruction movement had allowed blacks, and their white allies to gain control of Republican governments in Southern states and then to utilize that control to pass laws in favor of economic and political growth for blacks.

After white Democratic legislators regained control of their state governments in the late 1870s, segregationists infused with the intent to reverse the gains blacks had achieved, insisted their legislators engage on a mission to end Reconstruction and to strip blacks of the progress they’d made. In compliance, the legislators formulated a stream of segregative Jim Crow laws to separate blacks from whites. As a result, the Reconstruction period from which blacks had begun to see their rights as people move toward “real” freedom transitioned into a “Post-Construction” period that not only gave birth to the segregation term “Jim Crow Laws”, but that in effect, immersed the black population into a “new” more subtle type of “slavery”.

Included among the stifling Jim Crow acts were laws forcing blacks to work in a corrupt sharecropping system that was designed to keep blacks dependent on whites and laws that disenfranchised blacks in attempt to prevent another black political rise to power.

Jim Crow’s disenfranchisement laws that denied blacks the right to vote were devised in order to bypass the 1870 ratification of the 15th Amendment that was designed to protect African American voting rights. Examples of these bypasses are: (1) Requirements insisting black voters know how to read and write before they could vote despite the fact statesmen knew many blacks had no means of becoming literate. (2) Anyone casting a vote had to own property Jim Crow laws in and of themselves were designed to prevent black land ownership. (3) Fees otherwise known as poll taxes were established requiring voters to pay for the privilege to cast their votes blacks were generally unable to afford these fees. (4) Even if blacks were able to meet voting criteria (1) through (3) above, they were still unlikely to be allowed a vote in the Democratic primaries because in most Southern states, primaries were designated for whites only.

As this oppression continued into the 1880s, state and local governments passed laws that prevented blacks from occupying or utilizing establishments designated as “for whites only”. Blacks needing the utilization of such establishments were made to utilize those marked as “colored”. Consequently, blacks found themselves stuck with schools, restaurants, parks, and transportation systems that were not only separate from but often inferior to the same systems afforded whites. They also found there would be no mistake as to which establishments were intended for which race because “Jim Crow signs” were erected to inform or more likely to warn them. These segregation signs were plastered any and everywhere the white establishment concurred they should be posted.

For the most part, states implemented segregative laws according to their preferences and their preferences often varied. However, one matter all segregating states agreed on was the forbiddance of interracial marriages.

Other laws enacted to keep blacks and whites apart included forbiddances such as Tennessee’s railroad car segregated seating law of 1881 (adopted by Florida in 1887, Mississippi in 1888, and Texas in 1889), Alabama’s law forbidding blacks from playing checkers with whites, and Louisiana’s order that circuses construct separate show entrances for blacks and whites. Despite the frivolous appearance of these laws, they aided in sealing segregative interactive gaps.

For approximately sixty-five years, Jim Crow laws stood as the laws of Southern lands. By 1945 it was evident the continued implementation of these laws had prevented the vast majority of black Americans from elevating above the status their early 1880s ancestors had undergone the status of second-class beings.

Despite their effectiveness, however, Jim Crow laws were not invincible. Nor were they capable of withstanding social, cultural, or economical changes induced by World War II. In a 1954 landmark decision involving of the case of Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court overturned an earlier decision (1896 Plessy v. Ferguson) that had stated racial segregation was legal and ordered Southern institutions be integrate themselves immediately.

Segregationists were appalled by the court’s order to integrate. Many white Southerners reacted with hostility and violence toward blacks. This adverse behavior became so out of control that in 1957 President Eisenhower was forced to federalize the Arkansas National Guard for the purpose of enforcing high school integration in Little Rock.

The true beginning of the end of the Jim Crow laws can be attributed to (1) Alabama governor, George Wallace’s 1963 decision to integrate his state’s university system; and (2) the 1964, 1965, and 1968, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and Fair Housing Act respectively. These three acts officially forbade the use of restrictive laws devised to discriminate against or disenfranchise any person on the basis of his or her race.

Boot those radical righties into the sea!