"Weel about and turn about and do jis so, Eb'ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow."
These phrases are the lyrics to the song "Jump Jim Crow" written in 1828 and performed by a minstrel show performer Thomas Dartmouth (T.D.) "Daddy" Rice, a white New Yorker whom was the first to popularized black face performance or what is commonly known today as blackface minstrelsy. In his performance, Rice portrays Jim Crow to be a caricature of a racially prejudiced black man who possesses the characteristics of being buffoonish, slothful, and superstitious. However, by 1850s the character Jim Crow had instinctively developed to be a standard part of the minstrel shows in America; who would have imagine that a character in which Rice produced would manifest into a legendary expression, which once heard by the older African Americans generation would bring back reminiscences of their predecessors being severely discriminated against and being brutally tormented.
As the era matured, the term Jim Crow began to evolute's both its denotation and connotation to associate with African Americans, developing to become laws of racial segregation known as the Jim Crow laws. This essay therefore, will describe the materialization of Jim Crow in the South, in ways it was put into practice by the white supremacists, and lastly concluding how it affected the African American race when threatened with the consequences under the Jim Crow laws.
It seems as though the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865 was the beginning of the highly anticipated emancipation for African Americans. Unfortunately, the ending of the Civil War was merely a false delusion of the jubilant life in which the colored people could possibly only dream of. Reality though was the reoccurrence of a war of ideologies, with questions such as "what are we to do with the freedmen?", "should blacks be given land or should they be permit to purchase it?", "would they be allowed to vote?", "should equal rights be given to them?" surfacing. For a diminutive period of time, African Americans were granted a glimpse of optimism of equal rights by The Civil Rights Act of 1875. The Act was proposed by the Republican Senator Charles Sumner and the Republican Congressman Benjamin F. Butler in 1870, which was passed by Congress in February, 1875 and signed by President Grant on March 1, 1875. The Act guaranteed that "all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude".
During the glorious period of 1875 to 1883, the African Americans were permitted the consent to vote, hold position in the office, and were allowed attend school. The more incorporated cities in the south such as New Orleans, Louisiana for instance, desegregated its streetcars in 1867, began experimenting with integrated public schools in 1869, legalized interracial marriage between 1868 and 1896, elected a total of 32 black state senators and 95 state representatives, and had integrated juries, public boards, and police departments . It seems at the time that African Americans were finally receiving the justified treatment in which they ought to have, and were at last given the rights and opportunities in which they should have also obtained naturally as human beings.
Even though after the Civil War, African Americans were able to acquire the freedoms and privileges that their slave ancestors could only fantasize of, the fantasy was short lived and came crashing down in 1883. The Supreme Court ruled out the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to be unconstitutional, consequently leaving the African Americans to face escalating discrimination during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. In announcing that the federal law is unconstitutional, Chief Justice Joseph Bradley ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not shield African Americans from discrimination by private businesses and individuals but only from discrimination by the state. He scrutinized that it was time for blacks to assume "the rank of a mere citizen" and to stop being the "special favorite of the laws." By 1890, whites both in the North and South progressively became less supportive of the Civil Rights Act, consequently causing racial tension to flare.
The Jim Crow epoch in American history dates from the late 1890's when the southern states began to intensify its law and state's constitution to put a restraint on the subordinate position of African Americans thus to keep them in place in society. These measures were aimed in isolating them in public spaces such as at schools, parks, transportations, accommodations, and etc. In addition to that, the white supremacy were also endeavoring the black adult males from being legitimated to vote. For instance, the grandfather clause that was enacted in February 8, 1989 was formed to deny suffrage to African Americans, as well as Native Americans. The grandfather clause asserted that those who had enjoyed the rights to vote prior to 1867, or if their antecedent have, they would then be excuse from educational, property, or tax requirements for voting. As a result African Americans even if they meet all the requirements, they are still not permissible to vote whereas some white illiterate where given the prospect to vote.
By 1910, all the former Confederate states in addition to the new state of Oklahoma had disfranchised the black voters; hence segregation between the races was on full scale. Segregation and disfranchisement laws were also supported by ritualized mob violence, such as the brutalizing practice of lynching. From 1889 to 1930, over 3700 men and women were reportedly lynched; with most of these victims southern blacks . Hundreds of other lynching and acts of mob terror designed to abuse African American transpired throughout the era, but went unreported in the press . The emergence of the Klu Klux Klan or the "KKK" for short further fortifies the power of the Jim Crow law. The KKK was first embodiment was in 1866, founded by veterans of the Confederate Army, the organization aims at resisting against the Reconstruction of the Southern states. The establishments of the KKK more often than not, are acts of terrorism, violence such as lynching and cross burning to tyrannize the African Americans.
The southern states began to endorse segregation legislations against African Americans shortly after the Supreme Court's decision to rule out the Civil Rights Act of 1875. For instance, in Louisiana in the year1890, it was required by decree that blacks were to ride in separate railroad cars. On June 7, 1892, in protest of the inequitable law, blacks tested the decree by having a 30 year old light-colored-skinned shoemaker named Homer Plessy to board a train on East Louisiana Railroad, whereupon he was promptly detained for sitting in a car reserved for whites. Plessy was only one-eighths black and seven-eighths white, but under Louisiana law, he was considered black and therefore he was obliged to be seated in the "Colored" car. Thus, Plessy went to court and dispute in The Homer Adolph Plessy vs. The State of Louisiana, that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. Plessy was later charged culpable given that the state could choose to regulate railroad companies that operated within Louisiana as well as being guilty of refusing to leave the white car. The Court assumed that Plessy's rights were not denied to him because the separate accommodations provided to blacks were equal to those provided whites. It also ruled that "separate but equal" accommodations did not stamp the "colored race with a badge of inferiority." Speaking for a seven-person majority, Justice Henry Brown wrote:
"That [the Separate Car Act] does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery...is too clear for argument...A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races -- a distinction which is founded in the color of the two races, and which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color -- has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races...The object of the [Fourteenth A]mendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either."
The US Supreme Court's ruling of the Plessy case greatly triggered racial segregation acts, with Southern states hastily beginning to pass laws which restricted African Americans entrée to schools, restaurants, hospitals, and other public places. Signs that read "Whites Only" or "Colored" were posted at entrances and exits, water fountains, waiting rooms, and restrooms. Laws differed from state to state, but they were all created for the same reason to restricted all aspects of life thus making life harsher for Africans Americans. For example in 1905 in Georgia, laws were pass to isolate public parks, in 1909 Mobile, Alabama they created a regulation to put a curfew on the blacks at 10 p.m. In 1915, South Carolina blacks and whites were restricted from working together in the same rooms of textile factories.
Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois both in spite of being critics of one another were two African American philosophers whom help raise issues on the integrity of the Jim Crow laws and contributed to it's elimination. Washington despite being a more passive figure however, was a mentor and co-founder of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute which provided practical education for young African American boys, in addition to that he was also an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where the goal of the establishment were to abolish segregation, discrimination, disenfranchisement, and racial violence such as the act of lynching in particular. Du Bois, the most prominent African American intellectual leader and political activist during the first half of the twentieth century co-founded the short-lived Niagara Movement and help supported the NAACP in which later become increasingly radical. Du Bois was also a member of a fraternity with a civil rights focus, Alpha Phi Alpha, and the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans.
Fortunately by 1915, the vigor of Jim Crow laws were gradually beginning to diminish. One of the initial steps towards justice is illustrated in the Supreme Court case of Guinn vs. United States, the case ruled that the Oklahoma law which denied the right to vote to some citizens is now considered unlawful. By 1917, in Buchanan vs. Warley the Court held that Louisville, Kentucky law could not require residential segregation. However, the case in 1952 of Brown vs. Board of Education was the case, which truly enhances the justification of the rights of the African American race. In the early 1950's, racial segregation was typical in public schools across America. Even though all the schools in a given district were supposed to be equal, most black schools were far poorer than to the schools for the whites. South Carolina, for instance, the white schools had one teacher for every 28 students and the black schools had one teacher for every 47 students. Other differences between the schools for the blacks and whites were in the distinction in construction such as, brick and stucco versus rotting wood and indoor plumbing versus outhouses.
In 1952, a black third-grader named Linda Brown from Topeka, Kansas had to stagger one mile everyday through railroad switchyard in order attend her black elementary school, although a white elementary school was only seven blocks away. Oliver Brown, Linda's father attempted to enroll Linda in the white elementary school, nevertheless the principal of the school repudiate Linda's enrollment. Brown shortly acquires help from McKinley Burnett, the head of Topeka's branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The NAACP was eager to assist the Browns, as it they had long anticipated to challenge segregation in public schools. Numerous black parents joined Brown, and, in 1951, the NAACP requested an authority that would ban the separation of blacks and whites in Topeka's public schools.
The NAACP argued at the trial that the act of segregating schools between the two races launches message to black children that they were "lesser" to whites; thus, making the segregated schools essentially unequal. One of the expert witnesses, Dr. Hugh W. Speer, testified that:
"...if the colored children are denied the experience in school of associating with white children, who represent 90 percent of our national society in which these colored children must live, then the colored child's curriculum is being greatly curtailed. The Topeka curriculum or any school curriculum cannot be equal under segregation."
Montgomery bus operators in Alabama were supposed to separate their coach buses into two sections: whites up front and blacks in back. As more whites boarded, the white section would extend toward the back of the bus. In theory however, no passengers were oblige to move or give up their seat and stand if the bus was crowded or if all the seats were occupied. Over time and by custom, however, Montgomery bus drivers had to implement the practice of compelling black riders to move or to stand up whenever there were no white only seats vacant. Being so, in the early 1950's no white man had to stand on a Montgomery bus since if the bus was completely occupied, blacks would then be force to stand up for the whites in order to leave available space for the whites to sit. On December 1, 1955, however, the occurrence of Rosa Parks, an African American woman refused to obey the bus driver and give up her seat to the white passenger sparked of one of the largest movements against racial segregation. Years later, in recalling the events of that day, Parks said, "When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night." Parks at the time was nonetheless, arrested, fingerprinted, and imprisoned.
Thus this particular event infuriated the African American race leaving them with no other choice but to establish a boycott against the injustice act of the Montgomery Bus. Four days following the incident, on December 5, 1955 was when the Montgomery Bus Boycott had officially begun. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted approximately for about a year, was a political and social cry for the ending of racial segregation on the public transit system. The boycott was astonishingly effective, on November 1956, the Supreme Court's ruling declared that segregation on public transportation is thus, unconstitutional hence this marked the naissance of the modern civil rights movement.
The epoch which is frequently referred to as the "Second Reconstruction" is the time when the Civil Rights Movement reaches its functioning climax and had successfully accomplished the Civil Rights revolution and materialized it in the Fourteen and Fifteenth Amendments. By the 1960s, other Supreme Court decisions, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in public facilities, in government, and in employment, nullify the majority of Jim Crow laws in the southern US. Enhancing the act towards the ending of the disfranchisement of African Americans is the Voting Rights Act of 1965; thus, regardless of race, one was permitted to vote. The Civil Rights movement however, cannot be elucidate without referencing to Martin Luther King, Jr. who was one of the key leaders of the American civil rights movement in the 1950s. It was believed that King obtained his greatest enthusiasm from the non-violent tactics used by the leader of India whom was trying to attain independence from Great Britain, Mahatma Gandhi.
Even though the fight for equality of race had taken virtually a century to accomplish, it was nevertheless considered effective and worthwhile. Heroes and heroines such as Booker T. Washington, William Edward Burghardt DuBois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, were just a few of the countless dominant figures which contributed to the success of the African Americans making them finally able to get hold of what that had been promised to them at the end of the Civil War. The battle may have been a difficult struggle and that it has not been an entirely painless victory, but the war was courageously fought, and righteousness ultimately prevailed. In fact, according to a survey of students conducted in American history class at a major university, less than 20 percent of the students acknowledge the statement "Jim Crow" let alone be acquainted with the historical meaning of this particular term. This therefore demonstrates that the historical denotation of the term is now at its finishing point.
Nonetheless, it is yet debatable that if the Jim Crow legacy, or the idea of white supremacy, segregations and racial discriminations is at its end in the hearts, minds, and actions of the majority Americans; then why are there still occurrence of race riots in American cities? It seems to be that these insurrections are constant reminders that voting rights and integration of public school could only partially solve the issue of race in America, and that the ultimate solution has not yet been unravel. Numerous African Americans still lack equal access to good education, decent homes, thus this implies that certain elements of Jim Crow are yet still prevailing in American society today. In Democracy in America, Tocqueville wrote that "the prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the States that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those States where servitude has never been known." Tocqueville thus found that if the laws did not discriminate against blacks in virtually every area of their existence, popular prejudice, - still does.
Alexis De Tocqueville, "Democracy in America" translated by George Lawrence, Harper and Row 1966
Benjamin Munn Ziegler, "Justice Henry Billings Brown "Majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson,"
David Levering Lewis W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919-1963 (Owl Books 2001).
Edward W. Knappman, "Great American Trials" Visible Ink, Detroit 1994
George C. Wright, "Life behind a veil: Blacks in Louisville, Kentucky 1865-1930" LSU Press 1985
Keith Weldon Medley, "The Sad Story of How 'Separate but Equal' Was Born," Smithsonian Magazine Feb. 1994
Lucius Jefferson Barker, "New Perspectives in American Politics" Transaction Publishers. 1992
Parks Recalls Bus Boycott, Excerpts from an interview with Lynn Neary, NPR, 1992
Desegregation and the Supreme Court" Boston: D.C. Heath and Company 1958
Historic U.S. Cases 1690-1993: An Encyclopedia, Copyright 1992, Garland Publishing, New York
W. E. Burghardt Du Bois, "Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880" by with introduction by Du Bois biographer David Levering Lewis. 768 pages. Free Press: 1995 reissued from 1935