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Jim Crow

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Jim Crow

While Jim Crow might seem like an innocent name, it holds great weight in the history of African Americans in the United States. Jim Crow began as a character in a minstrel show but his name would become synonymous with segregation and discrimination in America after the Civil War.

Definition of Jim Crow

Jim Crow, as a general term, refers to the customs of discrimination and segregation that pervaded the South following the end of slavery in the United States. In this explanation, we will be focusing on Jim Crow laws which were a collection of state and local laws that essentially legalized discrimination and segregation.

Origins of Jim Crow Laws

Origins of Jim Crow Laws: The Jim Crow Character

The Origins of Jim Crow Jim Crow Depiction StudySmarterDepiction of Jim Crow, commons,wikimedia.org

In the 1830s and 40s, an internationally popular minstrel performer, Thomas Dartmouth Rice often portrayed a character he named Jim Crow. Rice would wear blackface and act like a fool while speaking in stereotypical, exaggerated African American Vernacular English. With time, other white performers came to use the name “Jim Crow” for any derogatory portrayal of a Black man.

Minstrel Shows and Blackface

Minstrelsy was a form of theater that originated in the United States in the early 1800s. Often, the comedy of minstrel shows was based on racial stereotypes. White men would paint their faces black and imitate slaves in an extremely derogatory and stereotypical way. This led to perpetuated stereotypes and discrimination against African Americans.

Origins of Jim Crow Laws: The End of Reconstruction

After the Civil War, the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) began. During the Reconstruction Era, Republicans from the North worked to reconstruct the government of Southern states. Northern politicians also worked on a plan for how Southern states could rejoin the Union. Troops remained in the South to enforce any Reconstruction legislation passed.

The Compromise of 1877 formally ended the Reconstruction Era. The Compromise was between the Northern Republicans and the Southern Democrats. The Southern Democrats would allow Republican Rutherford B. Hayes to win the disputed presidential election of 1876 so long as the troops left the South.

The Origins of Jim Crow Rutherford B Hayes Portrait StudySmarterPortrait of President Rutherford B. Hayes, commons.wikimedia.org

Although Black Codes, laws enforcing discrimination, started to pop up as soon as 1865, once free from the watchful eyes of the North, white Southern politicians began to enact a whole collection of discriminatory laws, all under the umbrella of Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow laws were an attempt to take back the rights granted to African Americans via the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.

Examples of Jim Crow Laws

We know that the Jim Crow laws tried to take the rights away from African Americans, but what did these laws look like across the South? Well, they covered just about every aspect of life, from transportation to child custody. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • In Alabama, all buses stations had to have separate waiting areas and ticket windows for Black and white passengers.

  • In South Carolina, a white guardian could not give up custody of a white child to a Black guardian.

  • In Florida, schools for white and Black children had to be separate.

  • In North Carolina, Black and white men were not allowed to fight side by side and all-black militias were led by white officers.

  • In Alabama, white female nurses were not allowed to work in hospitals where Black men were treated.

  • In Mississippi, Black and white prisoners had to have separate sleeping quarters and eating areas.

Although a specific state is mentioned for each example, many of these laws were present in other states as well. There were also laws that led to the disenfranchisement of Black citizens and laws against marriages between Black and white citizens.

The Legality of Jim Crow Laws

The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were supposed to protect the rights of recently freed slaves and ensure equality.

Amendment

Significance

Thirteenth Amendment

Ended slavery

Fourteenth Amendment

Declared equal rights for all citizens regardless of race

Fifteenth Amendment

Declared the right to vote for all male citizens regardless of race

However, the Jim Crow laws managed to find a loophole with the concept of “separate but equal.”

“separate but equal”

a doctrine that allowed segregation so long as there was equality in conditions

The Legality of Jim Crow Laws: Plessy vs Ferguson

The Supreme Court coined the doctrine of “separate but equal” in Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896. The argument in Plessy vs Ferguson surrounded the legality of Louisiana’s Separate Car Act which required black and white passengers to ride in separate railway cars.

Homer Plessy, a man who was only one-eighth black and appeared white to the eye, sat in a “whites only” railway car in protest. When he informed a train conductor of his race, they asked him to vacate. Plessy was arrested when he refused.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court with Homer Plessy arguing that the Separate Car Act violated the Fourteenth Amendment which guaranteed equal rights. In a decision that would be overturned decades later, the Supreme Court ruled against Homer Plessy citing the concept of “separate but equal.”

Enforcement of Jim Crow Laws

As we can tell from Plessy v Ferguson, Black citizens were at a disadvantage in the legal system which only made sense as the legal system was filled with white police officers, jurors, and judges. Black citizens who defied Jim Crow laws could face fines, arrests, and jail time.

However, jail time was not the worst fate that could occur for a Black citizen challenging segregation or racial inequality. White violence towards Black citizens was widespread, especially lynchings. It was during this time that the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist organization that still exists today, formed and gained a following.

Lynchings

a form of murder in which mobs of citizens commit public executions outside of the law, often by hanging

The Origins of Jim Crow - Key takeaways

  • The name Jim Crow came from a minstrel character performed by Thomas Dartmouth Rice.
  • After the Compromise of 1877, Reconstruction ended, and troops left the Southern states.
  • Southern states made Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise Black citizens and strip them of their rights guaranteed by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.
  • The Supreme Court allowed Jim Crow laws to exist because of the doctrine of "separate but equal" coined in Plessy vs Ferguson.
  • Black citizens who broke Jim Crow laws could not only face jail and fines, but also violence and death at the hands of white supremacists.

Frequently Asked Questions about Jim Crow

Jim Crow was a minstrel show character created by Thomas Dartmouth Rice. Rice would wear blackface and act like a caricature of a stereotypical slave. 

Jim Crow refers to the customs of discrimination and segregation present in the South after the end of slavery. 

Jim Crow laws were a collection of laws in the Southern states that essentially made segregation legal.

Jim Crow laws ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which put an end to segregation.

Final Jim Crow Quiz

Question

What formally ended the Reconstruction Era?

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Answer

The Compromise of 1877

Show question

Question

Where did the name "Jim Crow" come from?

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Answer

a minstrel show character portrayed by Thomas Dartmouth Rice in blackface

Show question

Question

What did Southern Democrats get in the Compromise of 1877?

Show answer

Answer

the removal of Southern troops

Show question

Question

Which Amendment guarantees equal rights for all citizens, regardless of race?

Show answer

Answer

The Fourteenth Amendment

Show question

Question

What Supreme Court case created the "separate but equal" doctrine?

Show answer

Answer

Plessy v Ferguson

Show question

Question

What was the Louisiana Separate Car Act?

Show answer

Answer

a law that made separate railway cars for black citizens and white citizens necessary 

Show question

Question

What Amendment guaranteed the right to vote for all men, regardless of race?

Show answer

Answer

The Fifteenth Amendment

Show question

Question

What is a lynching?

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Answer

a form of murder in which mobs of citizens commit public executions outside of the law, often by hanging 

Show question

Question

What was unique about Homer Plessy?

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Answer

He was only 1/8 African-American and appeared to be white. 

Show question

Question

What did the Republicans get in the Compromise of 1877?

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Answer

Rutherford B. Hayes in the presidential office

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Question

Who were the two parties in the Compromise of 1877?

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Answer

Northern Republicans

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Question

Who were the two candidates in the presidential election of 1876?

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Answer

Democrat Samuel Tilden

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Question

Who won the popular vote in the presidential election of 1876?

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Answer

Samuel Tilden

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Question

Which candidate became president as a result of the Compromise of 1877?

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Answer

Rutherford B. Hayes

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Question

What concessions did Northern Republicans make in the Compromise of 1877?

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Answer

Removal of troops from the South

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Question

What era in United States history did the Compromise of 1877 end?

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Answer

The Reconstruction Era

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Question

In the election of 1876, what three states had a dispute in the electoral vote?

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Answer

Florida

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Question

What is the term for the discriminatory laws in the South after the Reconstruction Era ended?

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Answer

Jim Crow laws

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Question

Why was Northern interest in Southern affairs declining leading up to the Compromise of 1877?

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Answer

original Radical Republicans out of office 

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Question

Who were the Radical Republicans?

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Answer

Republicans who were especially interested in punishing the South and protecting the rights of African Americans who lived there

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Question

When was the Louisiana Separate Car Act passed?

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Answer

1890

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Question

Which state first passed legislation requiring segregated railway cars?

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Answer

Florida

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Question

What were the two legal consequences passengers had to choose from if they disobeyed the guidelines of the Separate Car Act?

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Answer

$25 fine

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Question

What type of law was the Separate Car Act?

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Answer

a Jim Crow law

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Question

What was unique about Louisiana's history compared to other Southern states?

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Answer

It used to be French territory. 

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Question

What was the name of the civil rights group that challenged the Separate Car Act?

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Answer

New Orleans Citizens' Committee

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Question

When did the Louisiana Separate Car Act become unconstitutional?

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Answer

1954

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Question

What court case upheld the legality of the Separate Car Act?

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Answer

Plessy vs Ferguson

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Question

Who was arrested for violating the Separate Car Act?

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Answer

Homer Plessy

Show question

Question

What doctrine allowed the segregation of the Louisiana Separate Car Act to continue? 

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Answer

"separate but equal"

Show question

Question

When was Plessy vs Ferguson decided?

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Answer

1896

Show question

Question

Which law was in question in Plessy vs Ferguson?

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Answer

The Louisiana Separate Car Act

Show question

Question

What two amendments did Plessy's lawyer claim the Separate Car Act violated?

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Answer

The Thirteenth Amendment

Show question

Question

 What important doctrine did Plessy vs Ferguson establish?

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Answer

the "separate but equal" doctrine

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Question

What was the ruling in Plessy vs Ferguson?

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Answer

7-1 against Plessy

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Question

Who was the dissenting judge in Plessy vs Ferguson?

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Answer

Justice John Marshall Harlan

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Question

What court case essentially overturned Plessy vs Ferguson?

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Answer

Brown vs Board of Education

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Question

When was Plessy vs Ferguson overturned?

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Answer

1934

Show question

Question

What was the name of the group backing Homer Plessy in Plessy vs Ferguson?

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Answer

The New Orleans Citizens' Committee

Show question

Question

What was the argument of the dissenting opinion in Plessy vs Ferguson?

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Answer

Segregated conditions could never be truly equal, therefore segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Show question

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