It Was Jim Crow War - Jim Crow Museum (2023)

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Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system that prevailed mainly, but not exclusively, in the southern and border states between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a rigid set of laws against blacks. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were demoted to the status of second-class citizens. Jim Crow embodied the legitimacy of anti-black racism. Many Christian ministers and theologians taught that whites are the chosen people, blacks are condemned to be servants, and that God favors segregation. Craniologists, eugenicists, phrenologists, and social Darwinists at all levels of education reinforced the belief that blacks were inherently intellectually and culturally inferior to whites. The defenders of racial segregation made eloquent speeches about the great danger of integration: the miscegenation of the white race. Newspaper and magazine writers routinely referred to blacks as blacks, raccoons, and dark; and what is worse, his articles reinforced stereotypes against black people. Even in children's games, blacks were portrayed as inferior beings (cf."From Hostility to Amazement: 100 Years of African-American Imagery in Games"). All the major social institutions reflected and supported the oppression of blacks.

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The Jim Crow system was supported by the following beliefs or rationalizations: whites were superior to blacks in all important respects, including but not limited to intelligence, morality, and civilized behavior; Sexual relations between blacks and whites would create a hybrid race that would destroy America; Equal treatment of blacks would encourage interracial sexual relations. any activity that suggested social equality encouraged interracial sexual relations; Violence may have to be used to keep blacks at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. The following Jim Crow etiquette rules show just how pervasive and ubiquitous these rules were:

  • A black man could not shake hands (shake hands) with a white man because it meant being socially equal. Apparently, a black man could not offer his hand or any other part of his body to a white woman, otherwise he would risk being accused of rape.
  • Blacks and whites shouldn't eat together. If they ate together, the whites should be served first and some kind of partition should be placed between them.
  • Under no circumstances did a black man offer to light a white woman's cigarette, this gesture implied intimacy.
  • Blacks were not allowed to show public affection for one another in public, especially by kissing, as this offended whites.
  • Jim Crow etiquette dictated that blacks should be introduced to whites, whites never to blacks. For example: "Mr. Peters (the white person), this is Charlie (the black person) I told you about."
  • Whites did not use polite titles out of respect when referring to blacks, such as "Mr.", "Mrs.", "Miss," "Sir," or "Ma'am." Instead, blacks were called by their first names. Blacks were required to use courtesy titles when referring to whites and were not allowed to call them by their given names.
  • When a black person was in a car driven by a white person, the black person was in the back seat or back of a truck.
  • White drivers had the right of way at all intersections.

Stetson Kennedy, the author ofJim Crow Guide(1990) offered these simple rules for blacks to follow when talking to whites:

(Video) The Jim Crow Museum

  1. Never suggest or suggest that a white person is lying.
  2. Never accuse a white person of dishonorable intentions.
  3. Never assume that a white person belongs to a lower class.
  4. Never excessively claim or demonstrate superior knowledge or superior intelligence.
  5. Never curse a white person.
  6. Never make fun of a white person.
  7. Never comment on the appearance of a white woman.

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The Jim Crow label worked in conjunction with the Jim Crow Laws (black codes). When most people think of Jim Crow, they think of the laws (not Jim Crow etiquette) that barred blacks from public transportation and services, juries, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments had given blacks the same legal protections as whites. However, after 1877 and the election of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, the southern and border states began to restrict the liberties of blacks. Unfortunately for blacks, the Supreme Court helped undermine constitutional protections for blacks with the notorious case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which legitimized Jim Crow laws and the Jim Crow lifestyle.

In 1890, Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act, the goal of which was to improve passenger comfort by creating "same but separate" cars for blacks and whites. That was a ruse. No public accommodation, including rail travel, offered blacks the same facilities. Louisiana law prohibited blacks from sitting in seats on buses reserved for whites, and whites were not allowed to sit in seats reserved for blacks. In 1891, a group of blacks decided to test the Jim Crow law. They left Homer A. Plessy, who was seven-eighths white and one-eighth black (that is, black), in the all-white train car. He was arrested. Plessy's attorney argued that Louisiana did not have the right to designate one citizen as white and another as black in order to limit their rights and privileges. In the Plessy case, the Supreme Court held that as long as state governments gave blacks legal process and legal liberties equal to those of whites, they could maintain separate institutions to facilitate those rights. The court upheld Louisiana's statute by a vote of 7 to 2, declaring that segregation does not necessarily negate equality. In practice, Plessy represented the legitimacy of two societies: one white and one favored; the other, black, disadvantaged and despised.

Blacks were denied the right to vote through poll taxes (fees charged to poor blacks), white primaries (only Democrats could vote, only whites could be Democrats), and literacy tests ("Name all Vice Presidents and Supreme Court Justices in American History" )"). Plessy sent this message to the southern and border states: Discrimination against black people is acceptable.

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Jim Crow states have enacted laws that strictly regulate social interactions between races. Jim Crow signs were posted above water fountains, door entrances and exits, and in front of public facilities. There were separate hospitals for whites and blacks, separate jails, separate public and private schools, separate churches, separate cemeteries, separate public baths, and separate public housing. In most cases, the black facilities were totally inferior, generally older and less well maintained. In other cases, there were no facilities for blacks, no public bath for blacks, no public beach, and no place to sit or eat. Plessy gave Jim Crow states a legal way to ignore their constitutional obligations to their black citizens.

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Jim Crow Laws touched all aspects of daily life. For example, in 1935, Oklahoma prohibited blacks and whites from sailing together. Sailing meant social equality. In 1905, Georgia established separate parks for blacks and whites. In 1930 in Birmingham, Alabama, blacks and whites were prohibited from playing checkers or dominoes together. Here are some typical Jim Crow laws compiled by the interpretation staff at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site:

  • hair salon.No colored barber can serve as a barber for white (Georgia) girls or women.
  • Blind rooms.The Board of Trustees shall maintain... a separate building... on separate grounds for the reception, care, instruction and assistance of all blind persons of color or black race (Louisiana).
  • Burial.The official having jurisdiction shall not bury or permit the burial of persons of color in segregated or burial sites for White persons (Georgia).
  • busAll motorized passenger rail stations in this state must have separate waiting rooms or areas and separate ticket booths for the white and colored (Alabama) races.
  • Careful.It is unlawful for any parent, relative, or other White person in this state who has control or custody of a White child by natural or acquired guardianship or otherwise disposes, gives, or delivers such White child permanently into the care, control , maintenance, or support of a Negro (South Carolina).
  • Education.Schools for white children and schools for black children are run separately (Florida).
  • librariesThe State Librarian is directed to establish and maintain a separate room for people of color who may come to the library to read books or magazines (North Carolina).
  • Psychiatry.The governing body should ensure that adequate and separate accommodation is provided for these patients so that blacks and whites are not allowed to be together under any circumstances (Georgia).
  • Militia.White and colored militia register separately and should never be forced to serve in the same organization. Where white troops are available, organization of colored troops is not permitted, and where organization of white troops is permitted, colored troops are under the command of white (North Carolina) officers.
  • nursesNo person or entity may require a white nurse to provide care in public or private hospital wards or rooms that house black males (Alabama).
  • prisonsThe warden will ensure that white convicts have separate apartments for eating and sleeping from black (Mississippi) convicts.
  • reformatories.White and colored children in debt to health food stores will be kept completely separate (Kentucky).
  • Teach.Any teacher charged with teaching in a school, college, or institution that accepts and enrolls white students and students of color as students shall be found guilty of a misdemeanor and fined if convicted... (Oklahoma).
  • wine and beerAll persons licensed to sell beer or wine may serve exclusively whites or exclusively blacks and may not sell to two races in the same room at any time (Georgia).1

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Jim Crow laws and the etiquette system were underpinned by actual and threatened violence. Blacks who violated Jim Crow regulations, such as drinking from the white water fountain or voting, risked their homes, jobs, and even their lives. Whites could physically beat blacks with impunity. Blacks had little recourse against these attacks because the Jim Crow criminal justice system was made up entirely of whites: police officers, prosecutors, judges, juries, and corrections officers. Violence played a crucial role for Jim Crow. It was a method of social control. The most extreme forms of Jim Crow violence were lynchings.

Lynchings were public, often sadistic killings committed by mobs. Between 1882, when the first reliable data was collected, and 1968, when lynchings had become rare, there were 4,730 known lynchings, including 3,440 black men and women. Most of Lynch Law's victims were hanged or shot, but some were burned at the stake, castrated, beaten, or dismembered. In the mid-19th century, whites made up the majority of victims (and perpetrators); However, during the radical reconstruction period, blacks became the most common victims of lynching. This is an early indication that lynching was used as an intimidation tool to keep blacks, in this case newly freed, "in their place." The vast majority of lynchings occurred in the southern and border states, where anti-black resentment was most pronounced. According to the social economist Gunnar Myrdal (1944): “The southern states account for nine-tenths of lynchings. Over two-thirds of the remaining tenth occurred in the six states immediately to the south” (pp. 560-561).

Many whites claimed that while lynchings were egregious, they were a necessary adjunct to the criminal justice system because blacks were vulnerable to violent crime, particularly the rape of white women. Arthur Raper studied lynching for nearly a century and concluded that about a third of all lynching victims were falsely accused (Myrdal, 1944, p. 561).

Under Jim Crow, all sexual interactions between black men and white women were illegal, illicit, socially repugnant, and fell within the Jim Crow definition of rape. Although only 19.2 percent of lynching victims between 1882 and 1951 were accused of rape, lynching rights were often based on the popular belief that lynchings were necessary to protect white women from black rapists. . Myrdal (1944) refutes this belief as follows: “There is every reason to believe that this number (19.2) has been inflated by the fact that a mob alleging rape is shielded from any further investigation; across the broad southern states." Definition of rape encompassing all sexual relations between black men and white women, and through white women's psychopathic fears in their contacts with black men" (pp. 561-562) . Most blacks were lynched for demanding civil rights, violating Jim Crow etiquette or the law, or for race riots.

Lynchings were more common in small and medium-sized cities, where blacks were often economic competitors to local whites. These whites rejected any economic and political gain from blacks. Lynchers were rarely arrested and, if arrested, rarely convicted. Raper (1933) estimated that "at least half of lynchings involve policemen, and that in nine-tenths of the other cases the officers condone or wink at mob action" (pp. 13-14). . . Lynching served many purposes: it was cheap entertainment; it served the whites as a meeting and union point; it worked as an ego massage for low-income, low-status whites; It was a method of defending white supremacy and helped stop or slow down the fledgling movement for social equality.

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Lynch mobs directed their hatred towards one (sometimes multiple) victims. The victim was an example of what happened to a black man who was trying to vote, look at a white woman, or try to get a white man's job. Unfortunately for blacks, the mob was sometimes not content with killing a single victim or multiple victims. Instead, in the spirit of pogroms, mobs invaded black communities, destroying more lives and property. His immediate goal was to drive out all blacks by death or expulsion; The main goal was to maintain white supremacy at all costs. These pogrom-like actions are often referred to as riots; However, Gunnar Myrdal (1944) was right when he described these "riots" as "a terror or a massacre... a mass lynching" (p. 566). Interestingly, these mass lynchings were mostly urban phenomena, while individual victim lynchings were mostly rural.

James Weldon Johnson, the famous black writer, referred to the year 1919 as "The Red Summer." He was red with racial tension; he was red from the bleeding. In the summer of 1919, race riots broke out in Chicago, Illinois; Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee; Charleston, South Carolina; Omaha, Nebraska; and two dozen other cities. GRID. DuBois (1986), the black social scientist and civil rights activist, wrote: “Seventy-seven blacks were lynched that year, including one woman and eleven soldiers; of these, fourteen were publicly cremated, of whom eleven were burned alive. That year, riots large and small occurred in 26 American cities, including 38 dead in a riot in Chicago in August, 25 to 50 in Phillips County, Arkansas, and six dead in Washington” (p. 747).

The riots of 1919 were not the first nor the last "mass lynching" of blacks, as evidenced by the Wilmington, North Carolina race riots (1898); Atlanta, Georgia (1906); Springfield, Ill. (1908); Eastern St. Louis, Illinois (1917); Tulsa, Oklahoma (1921); and Detroit, Michigan (1943). Joseph Boskin, author of Urban Racial Violence (1976), stated that the riots of the 20th century had the following characteristics:

  1. In each of the race riots, with few exceptions, whites started the incident by attacking blacks.
  2. In most riots, extraordinary social conditions prevailed at the time of the uprising: prewar social change, wartime mobility, postwar adjustment, or economic depression.
  3. Most of the riots occurred in the hot summer months.
  4. Rumors played an extremely important role in starting many riots. Rumors of black-on-white criminal activity reinforced the actions of white mobs.
  5. The police, more than any other institution, were invariably involved as an initiating cause or continuing factor in the riots. In almost every riot, the police sided with the attackers, either participating or failing to put down the attack.
  6. In almost all cases, the fighting took place within the black community. (pp. 14-15)

Boskin omitted the following: the mainstream media, especially newspapers, often carried inflammatory articles about "black criminals" immediately before the riots; Blacks were not only killed, but their homes and businesses were looted, and many who did not flee were left homeless; and the goal of white rioters, like white lynchers of individual victims, was to instill fear and terror in blacks and thus consolidate white supremacy. The Jim Crow hierarchy could not function without violence against those below. As George Fredrickson (1971), a historian, put it: “Lynching represented…a way of using fear and terror to curb 'dangerous' tendencies in a black community that was seen as ineffectively regulated or policed. As such, it constituted a .

Many blacks endured the humiliations of Jim Crow and all too often paid for their bravery with their lives.

© Dr. David Pilgrim
Professor of Sociology
Ferris State University
September 2000
Edited 2012


1This list was derived from a larger list compiled by Martin Luther King Jr., interpretive staff at the National Historic Site. Last updated on January 5, 1998. The web address is: http// crowlaws.htm.

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Boskin, J. (1976).Urban racial violence in the 20th century(2. Aufl.). Beverly Hills, CA: Glencoe Press.

Dubois, WEB (1986).written. N. Huggins, (ed.). New York NY: Classics of American Literature.

Kennedy, S. (1959/1990).Jim Crow Guide: What It Was Like. Boca Raton, FL: Florida Atlantic University Press.

Myrdal, G. (1944).An American Dilemma: The Black Problem and Modern Democracy. . . . New York, NY: Harper.

Rapist, A.F. (1933).The tragedy of the lynching. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press.

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