Who is Jim Crow?

By George Garza
Info Guru, Catalogs.com

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The Civil War period
Jim Crow has frequently been portrayed as a fictional character, but the words Jim Crow are primarily known to describe a set of laws in the 1800s
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Jim Crow is not a person but a cultural set of laws on the separation of races.

Segregation laws called the Black Codes arose after Reconstruction and ended in 1877. These black codes and customs included requirements for separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks, separate restrooms and separate diners and restaurants that served only whites. Then it extended to bank-lending policies, real-estate buying policies and college admissions. These black codes became culturally known as Jim Crow laws.


The civil rights movement was created to eliminate these laws and customs. They succeeded with the Congressional passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.


The Origins of Jim Crow


In 1828 the song, Jim Crow, was written by Thomas Dartmouth Rice. Rice was a minstrel actor who did short solo skits between play scenes at the Park Theater in New York. In 1828 Rice appeared on stage as Jim Crow. This was an exaggerated Black character.


Ten years later, by 1838 Jim Crow as a racial slur had spread in popularity due to the minstrel shows. By the end of the 19th Century, however, the words Jim Crow were not to be used as a slur; instead, the phrase Jim Crow was used to describe laws and customs which oppressed Blacks.


Reconstruction and Progressive Eras


As freedmen, former slaves were now trying to make it on their own, the first Civil Rights laws were passed during the Reconstruction period of 1865-76 to make that possible. The laws were designed to provide protection in the South. But as reconstruction ended, the animus followed in each southern state by redeemer governments that passed the Jim Crow Laws to separate and keep separate the races. In the Progressive Era the Jim Crows were formalized. Segregation was extended to the federal government by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.


Legal and Supreme Court Action


In a landmark Supreme Court decision, Plessy vs Ferguson, (1896) the court said that separation of the races, at least in education, was acceptable. Their ruling separate but equal meant that parallel school systems could be developed as long at the black systems were equal in quality to the white system. But this equality never materialized.


Many of the attacks on the legal front were not successful at the legislative level, in part because the customs were too well-entrenched and because the Supreme Court reasoning was unquestioned.


In 1917 the Supreme Court began to question this line of reasoning. In Buchanan v. Warley the court held unconstitutional a Kentucky law requiring residential segregation. About 30 years later in 1946 the Supreme Court held in Irene Morgan v. Virginia that segregation in interstate transportation was unconstitutional. Not wishing to enter into the subjective area of deciding a case on moral grounds, the Court's reasoning was based on the commerce clause of the Constitution, which gave the U.S. Congress the power to step into state matters.


It was not until 1954 in the case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that the Court held that separate but equal was inherently unequal in the area of public schools. By 1964 and 1965 landmark congressional legislation effectively killed Jim Crow.


After the Civil war social and cultural practices developed in the South and other areas of the country that defined how the black and white races were to interact. These laws and practices were Jim Crow laws.

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