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Jim Crow Era

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Jim Crow Era

The Jim Crow era was an era of disenfranchisement, brutal violence, and legalised racism against African Americans. How did such a horrifically racist system come about, especially after the North's victory in the Civil War? And what did it take to end Jim Crow? Keep reading to find out.

Jim Crow Era Timeline

DateEvent
1861 - 1865American Civil War.
1865Reconstruction began.
1866Civil Rights Act passed which affirmed all citizens were equally protected under the law.
1868Fourteenth Amendment passed which guaranteed equality before the law regardless of race.
1870Fifteenth Amendment passed which barred racial discrimination in voting. It secured black men the vote.
1875Civil Rights Act passed which prohibited segregation on public transport but was poorly enforced.
1877Federal troops were removed from the South, signalling the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow.
1883Civil Rights Cases saw the Supreme Court declare the 1875 Act unconstitutional.
1890s Southern states implemented new voting laws and constitutions to discriminate against black voters.
1896Plessy v. Ferguson saw the Supreme Court establish a "separate but equal" doctrine. It allowed segregation of public facilities as long as facilities were equal in quality.
1909National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded.
1915Birth of a Nation, a film that glorified the Klu Klux Klan (KKK), was released. This led to the KKK's resurgence.
1915 - 1930 The Great Migration saw millions of African Americans moving from the rural South to the North and West.
1917The US joined World War I. Thousands of African Americans served in the war.
1917 JulyA race riot in Illinois killed around forty black people. Marches protesting racial oppression followed three weeks later.
1919Racial tensions erupted into violence as whites rioted about black demands for equality. This bloody period was called the Red Summer and whites attacked black people throughout the US.
1920 - 1935The Harlem Renaissance was a period where African American arts, literature, and theatre flourished.
1925Over 30,000 members of the Klu Klux Klan marched in Washington.
1941President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 to outlaw discrimination in the defence industry.
1954In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that educational segregation was unconstitutional and ordered rapid desegregation.
1955A law was passed by the Maryland legislature that imprisoned any white woman who birthed a mixed-race child for up to five years. It was renewed 2 years later.
1955Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King led the Montgomery bus boycott, where African Americans refused to ride city busses in Montgomery to protest segregated seating.
1956Segregation and discrimination continued with laws passed in Alabama, North Carolina and Louisiana that prevented inter-racial mixing.
1957African-American children were prevented from entering a desegregated school at Little Rock. President Eisenhower sent the army to protect the children. He then introduced the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
1958Under the Virginia legislature, schools that enrolled both black and white students were threatened with closure.
1959Busses were required to designate whites-only seating areas under an Arkansas law.
1960The Civil Rights Act of 1960 was introduced to strengthen voting rights and build on the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
1964The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in public accommodations, further desegregated schools and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Jim Crow Era Definition

The term Jim Crow comes from actor Thomas Dartmouth Rice, who became famous for performing in blackface makeup as a stereotypical black character called Jim Crow.

Blackface

The act of wearing dark makeup to mimic the appearance of black people. It is done with the intent to ridicule and mock black people.

After the end of Reconstruction, Jim Crow was used to refer to laws and social norms in the Southern states for their discrimination against African Americans.

Jim Crow Era and the End of Reconstruction

There is a common misconception that Jim Crow came directly after slavery. Actually, between the abolition of slavery and Jim Crow there was a period where African Americans advanced and flourished in politics and government. This was called Reconstruction.

Reconstruction (1865 - 1877) embodied the North's commitment to racial equality after the end of the Civil War in 1865. It saw huge gains for African American rights in the southern states. South Carolina, the birthplace of the Confederacy, saw 50 black members elected to its legislature, out of a total of 63 spaces. It was and remains to this day the only time a state has had a black majority in its legislature.

Jim Crow Era Photo Montage of Black politicians in South Carolina StudySmarterPhoto montage created in 1876 and distributed by opponents of Reconstruction. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Despite these achievements, Reconstruction gave way to Jim Crow in 1877 when federal troops were pulled out of the South. Pulling out the government's troops from the South was important because these soldiers helped to keep the peace in the South. They were stationed at voting booths to make sure African Americans could vote without intimidation or violence.

Did you know?

In the 1876 presidential election there were disputed results. President candidate Hayes made an offer that he would pull out the federal troops if the South agreed to let him take the White House. He withdrew the troops and established his presidency. Hayes' act was seen as a betrayal of the North's commitment to racial justice.

Rather than a direct line from slavery to Jim Crow then, Jim Crow was really a reversal of rights gained during Reconstruction. Without federal troops to enforce Reconstruction laws, Jim Crow grew in the South. By 1914 every southern state had Jim Crow laws.

Jim Crow Era Laws

Jim Crow laws essentially enforced segregation throughout the South and made inter-racial mixing illegal. These laws also denied voting, labour, and education rights to African Americans. Attempts to defy these laws were often met with arrest, fines, violence, or even death. The legal system was weighted against African-Americans, and law enforcement officials and judges were sympathetic to, and often even actively supportive of, segregation.

Segregation was upheld by Supreme Court rulings. During Reconstruction, the 1875 Civil Rights Act had prohibited discrimination in transport, hotels, theatres, and other entertainment venues. But by 1883 the Supreme Court declared the 1875 Act unconstitutional. They argued that the Fourteenth Amendment, which had guaranteed equality before the law, only applied to government facilities. Transport, hotels, theatres and the like, the Supreme Court argued, were privately owned and the government had no right to interfere in private affairs.

Jim Crow Era Photograph of Plessy v. Ferguson marker StudySmarterPhotograph of the Plessy v. Ferguson marker. By SkyWriter Creative Commons License Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The most important ruling which upheld segregation laws was Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Homer Plessy was part of the Committee of Citizens, a group who hoped to protest against Louisiana's segregationist 1890 Separate Car Act. Plessy's act of civil disobedience went all the way up to the Supreme Court who ruled that racial segregation laws were not unconstitutional. The Supreme Court argued that as long separate facilities were equal in quality, the Fourteenth Amendment of equality under the law was adhered to. This led to the creation of the "separate but equal" doctrine.

Between 1890 and 1908, southern states adopted new constitutions and implemented new voting laws to disenfranchise black voters. These designated ‘white only’ areas and put more and more restrictions on black people’s lives, including measures prohibiting inter-racial couples.

Jim Crow Era Facts

Here are some facts about Jim Crow and how it changed as the 20th century went on.

Jim Crow Era Facts: The KKK

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was and is a US terrorist organisation that advocates white supremacy. The Klan emerged as a response to the rights African-Americans gained during the Reconstruction. They operated a campaign of violence and intimidation against black people and anyone who supported them at the voting booths. This effectively barred African-Americans from voting.

Jim Crow Era Members of the Ku Klux Klan StudySmarterPhotograph of members of the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

When southern governments returned to Democrat control at the end of the Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws were introduced, there was less need for the KKK. However, the Klan re-emerged twice during the Jim Crow Era: first in 1915, reaching its highest membership numbers in the 1920s, and then in the 1950s in response to the growing Civil Rights Movement.

Did you know?

Before the party switch in the 1930s, the Republic Party had been the most popular amongst African Americans. It had supported abolitionism and was the party of Abraham Lincoln.

The Klan used lynchings, shootings, whippings, and cross burnings to spread terror. Their popularity was best displayed in a 1925 parade in Washington DC, which comprised of around 30,000 members.

Jim Crow Era Facts: the First and Second World Wars

In 1917, the United States entered the First World War. Around 400,000 African-Americans served during the war and three Black regiments received the Croix de Guerre award for valour when it ended. Despite their service, Black soldiers returned to continued disenfranchisement and violence. Black veterans were lynched in their uniforms.

During the Second World War, around 1.2 million African-Americans served in the military, though they worked in segregated units or in menial jobs. In 1941, during the Second World War, defence workers scheduled a march to protest racial discrimination. President Franklin Roosevelt responded by quickly issuing an executive order that made racial hiring discrimination in the defence industry illegal.

Jim Crow Era and the African American response

The rights of African-Americans were increasingly limited as Jim Crow raged on. How did African Americans in the South respond to this restriction of their hard-won freedoms?

Jim Crow Era Migration

The heightening of Jim Crow laws and the resurgence of the KKK led to mass migration out of the South. Between 1915 and 1930, 1 million African Americans moved to the North, mainly to cities such as New York or Detroit. This wave of mass migration was called The Great Migration. Black migration to cities caused increasing white discontent, leading to urban white riots and demands for segregation.

Did you know?

In 1887, a former slave Isaiah Montgomery created the African-American-only town of Mound Bayou in Mississippi, having been convinced that Black and white people could not live together peacefully. The town was a haven away from the racism and segregation of the Jim Crow South. Its small and isolated location helped shield it from white supremacist violence.

Jim Crow Era Resistance

African-Americans were active in resisting the Jim Crow laws, and the intensity of the protests only grew throughout the Era.

In 1892, Ida B. Wells became one of the first prominent activists against Jim Crow laws, after her investigative journalism pieces revealed the horrors of lynching. Her newspaper was destroyed by a white mob who threatened her with death. She then moved to the North, to Chicago, where she continued investigating lynching in the South. Another notable figure at the time was WEB Du Bois.

Who WEB Du Bois?

Du Bois was a sociologist, then historian and philosopher. His writings on race changed how people viewed America and 'the Negro problem', as it was called then.

Du Bois' famous book The Souls of Black Folk (1903) popularised the idea of the ‘colour line’ and of ‘double consciousness’: a sense of divided identity experienced by persecuted groups.

Du Bois was instrumental in the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in 1909. The NAACP was the major civil rights organisation until Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference emerged in the 1950s.

The 1920s to the 1930s saw the Harlem Renaissance. Harlem, New York became the centre for the flourishing of black arts, literature, and theatre. The Great Migration had resulted large numbers of African Americans moving to northern cities. Themes of urban life, religion and spirituality, and sexuality were common during the Harlem Renaissance.

Jim Crow Era Summary: End of an Era

It was the Civil Rights Movement that put an end to the segregation of Jim Crow. The Civil Rights Movement was a diverse series of movements concentrated in the South. Figures such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ella Baker protested, organised boycotts, and publicised the state of the South to the North. In doing so, they put racial equality on the agenda and shamed the North for allowing segregation in the South.

In 1954, lobbying from African American rights groups led to Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling that educational segregation was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ordered rapid desegregation of schools. The Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, led by Rosa Parks, saw African Americans boycott buses in Montgomery, Alabama, until seating and hiring discrimination ended. The boycott led to a 1956 Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public transport was unconstitutional. These events once again revived the KKK.

Jim Crow Era Rosa Parks at Police Station StudySmarterPhotograph of Rosa Parks being fingerprinted and indicted as one of the leaders of the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, 1956. Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1957, African-American teenagers were prevented from entering a high school at Little Rock, Arkansas. President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to protect the children. A similar situation occurred in 1962 when a black student, James Meredith, was admitted to the University of Mississippi and faced white violence. President John F. Kennedy sent federal troops to disperse the protesters.

The Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 introduced measures to protect black voting rights, but it was the 1964 Civil Rights Act that legally ended the Jim Crow Era. It ended segregation in public accommodations, further desegregated schools, and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Jim Crow Era - Key takeaways

  • The Jim Crow Era was a period of segregation in the South which lasted from 1877 until 1964.

  • The Ku Klux Klan played a key role in intimidating and committing violence against African-Americans during this period.

  • Although black soldiers served in both World Wars, they returned to hostile atmospheres of race riots and lynchings.

  • Black people migrated away from the South but this increased racial tensions in Northern cities.

  • The end of the Jim Crow Era was the result of the Civil Rights Movement, seen in the series of Supreme Court rulings such as Brown v. Board of Education.

Frequently Asked Questions about Jim Crow Era

1877–1964

The Jim Crow Era was a period of legal racial segregation concentrated in the southern United States.

During the Jim Crow Era, African-Americans lost many freedoms. Schools, entertainment venues, and even bathrooms were segregated into ‘White Only’ and ‘Colored Only’ areas. There was also a lot of racial violence against Black Americans.

Jim Crow was the name of a stereotypical black character performed by actor Thomas Dartmouth Rice in blackface. By 1838, Jim Crow had become a racial slur.

Schools in the South were segregated. White and Black children attended different schools. Schools for Black children received less money and were generally of lower quality. There were also limits on what the children could be taught (e.g. not allowing them to learn about equality).

Final Jim Crow Era Quiz

Question

What universities did Du Bois attend?

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Answer

  1. University of Tennessee
  2. Harvard University
  3. Wilberforce University

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Question

What are the names of the two groups Du Bois formed?

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Answer

Niagara Movement and the NAACP.

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What newspaper was Du Bois Chief editor for?


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Answer

The Crisis

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What is the title of Du Bois' book written in the form of a collection of essays?


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Answer

 The Souls of Black Folks

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Why did Du Bois oppose Booker T Washington?


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Answer

Booker T Washington believed that black people should not push for social reform but rather learn to be content with the system and struggles. Booker T Washington advocated for African-Americans to become skilled in agricultural labour. Whereas Du Bois passionately believed in social change and saw this as the only way to help African-Americans.

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What was Du Bois' version of Black Nationalism?


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Black Economy, Black Culture and Black Self-Governing.

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When was the NAACP founded?


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1909

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How many people were involved in the Niagara movement in 1906?


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170

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In what year did Du Bois join the American Communist Party?


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1961

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What is the name of Du Bois' first academic publication?


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The Philidephia Negro

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What period was Ida B Wells born in?

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During slavery and the American Civil War



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Where did Ida B Wells grow up?

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Mississippi

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In what year did she purchase the Memphis Free Post?


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1891

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When did she co-found the NAACP?


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1909

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What was the name of the African-American group she founded in 1896?


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National Association for Coloured Women

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What was the name of the first black women’s suffrage group?


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Answer

 Chicago Alpha Suffrage Committee

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When did Ida B Wells leave the NAACP and why?


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Answer

In 1912. Ida B Wells thought that the NAACP had lost its focus because there were too many white and black elites.

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When did she meet President Taylor McKinley and Congress, and why?


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In 1898. She wanted to lobby for federal anti-lynching legislation.

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What happened to Ida B Wells in 1892 and how did she respond?


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Three of her friends were lynched by a white mob after being accused of rape. This led her to write an article in the Memphis Free Post that angered the white people in her area and she was ran out of town.

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Why did Ida B Well gain $500 dollars in compensation?


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The Chesapeake & Ohio train company racially discriminated against her when they tried to force her to go to an African-American coach, and this resulted in her refusing and being kicked off the train.

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What were schools like during the Jim Crow Era?

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Answer

They were segregated and Black schools were of bad quality. Black kids weren't allowed to learn about equality. 

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Who withdrew federal troops from the South in 1877?


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President Rutherford Hayes.

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How many lynchings were there between 1882 and 1951?

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3438

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What was the first Supreme Court ruling which legalised segregation?


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The Slaughterhouse Cases of 1863.

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Where did the notion of ‘separate but equal’ come from?


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The case of Plessy V Ferguson in 1896.

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What did the Fourteenth Amendment forbid?


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It forbade states from depriving citizens of the laws’ ‘equal protection’.

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When was the Red Summer?


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1919

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What is the name of the influential US terrorist organisation?


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The Ku Klux Klan

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How many major race riots were there after the First World War?


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25

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What did Executive Order 8802 do in 1941?  


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Eliminated racial hiring discrimination in the defence industry.

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When did the Great Migration begin? 


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1915

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Name three activists against the Jim Crow laws.


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Any 3 from: Ida B. Wells, W E B Du Bois, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr.

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What does NAACP stand for?


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The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.

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What was ruled in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education?


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Educational segregation was unconstitutional.

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When and how did the Jim Crow Era end?


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Answer

In 1964, with the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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