Jim Crow Laws

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

Page 13

The Jim Crow Laws emerged in southern states after the U.S. CIVIL WAR. First enacted in the 1880s by lawmakers who were bitter about their loss to the North and the end of SLAVERY, the statutes separated the races in all walks of life. The resulting legislative barrier to equal rights created a system that favored whites and repressed blacks, an institutionalized form of inequality that grew in subsequent decades with help from the U.S. Supreme Court. Although the laws came under attack over the next half century, real progress against them did not begin until the Court began to dismantle SEGREGATION in the 1950s. The remnants of the Jim Crow system were finally abolished in the 1960s through the efforts of the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.

The term "Jim Crow" laws evidently originated from a minstrel show character developed during the mid-nineteenth century. A number of groups of white entertainers applied black cork to their faces and imitated Negro dancing and singing routines. Such acts became popular in several northern cities. One of the performers reportedly sang a song with the lyrics, "Weel about and turn about and do jis so, Eb'ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow." The moniker Jim Crow later became synonymous with the segregation laws.

The origins of Jim Crow lie in the battered South of the mid-nineteenth century. The Civil War had ended, but its antagonisms had not; the war of values and political identity continued. Many whites refused to welcome blacks into civic life, believing them to be inferior and resenting northern demands in the era of Reconstruction, especially the requirement that southern states ratify the THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT, which would abolish slavery. Southern states initially resisted by passing so-called BLACK CODES, which prohibited former slaves from carrying firearms or joining militias. More hostility followed when Congress enacted the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT of 1875 (18 Stat. 335), which guaranteed blacks access to public facilities. As the federal government pressed the South to enfranchise blacks, a backlash developed in the form of state regulations that separated whites from blacks in public facilities.

In the late nineteenth century, southern states took comfort from two U.S. Supreme Court decisions. First, in 1883, the Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 as unconstitutional, in the so-called CIVIL RIGHTS CASES, 109 U.S. 3, 3 S. Ct. 18, 27 L. Ed...

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