Jim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation (2023)

in: Civil Rights, Civil War, Reconstruction, and Progressivism, Eras in Social Welfare History

Jim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation

Introduction: Immediately following the Civil War and adoption of the 13th Amendment, most states of the former Confederacy adopted Black Codes, laws modeled on former slave laws. These laws were intended to limit the new freedom of emancipated African Americans by restricting their movement and by forcing them into a labor economy based on low wages and debt. Vagrancy laws allowed blacks to be arrested for minor infractions. Asystem of penal labor known as convict leasing was established at this time. Black men convicted for vagrancy would be used as unpaid laborers, and thus effectively re-enslaved.

Jim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation (1)

The Black Codes outraged public opinion in the North and resulted in Congress placing the former Confederate states under Army occupation during Reconstruction. Nevertheless, many laws restricting the freedom of African Americans remained on the books for years. The Black Codes laid the foundation for the system of laws and customs supporting a system of white supremacy that would be known as Jim Crow.

(Video) Jim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation in America | The Civil Rights Movement

The majority of states and local communities passed “Jim Crow” laws that mandated “separate but equal” status for African Americans. Jim Crow Laws were statutes and ordinances established between 1874 and 1975 to separate the white and black races in the American South. In theory, it was to create “separate but equal” treatment, but in practice Jim Crow Laws condemned black citizens to inferior treatment and facilities. Education was segregated as were public facilities such as hotels and restaurants under Jim Crow Laws. In reality, Jim Crow laws led to treatment and accommodations that were almost always inferior to those provided to white Americans.

Jim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation (2)

The most important Jim Crow laws required that public schools, public facilities, e.g., water fountains, toilets, and public transportation, like trains and buses, have separate facilities for whites and blacks. These laws meantthat black people were legally required to:

• attend separate schools and churches
• use public bathrooms marked “for colored only”
• eat in a separate section of a restaurant
• sit in the rear of a bus

Background: The term “Jim Crow” originally referred to a black character in an old song, and was the name of a popular dance in the 1820s. Around 1828, a minstrel show performer named Thomas “Daddy” Rice developed a routine in which he blacked his face, sang and danced in imitation of an old black man in ragged clothes. By the early 1830s, Rice’s character became tremendously popular, and eventually gave its name to a stereotypical negative view of African Americans as uneducated, shiftless, and dishonest.

Beginning in the 1880s, the term Jim Crow was used as a reference to practices, laws or institutions related to the physical separation of black people from white people. Jim Crow laws in various states required the segregation of races in such common areas as restaurants and theaters. The “separate but equal” standard established by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Fergurson (1896) supported racial segregation for public facilities across the nation.

(Video) Jim Crow Laws and the Segregated South

A Montgomery, Alabama ordinance compelled black residents to take seats apart from whites on municipal buses. At the time, the “separate but equal” standard applied, but the actual separation practiced by the Montgomery City Lines was hardly equal. Montgomery bus operators were supposed to separate their coaches into two sections: whites up front and blacks in back. As more whites boarded, the white section was assumed to extend toward the back. On paper, the bus company’s policy was that the middle of the bus became the limit if all the seats farther back were occupied. Nevertheless, that was not the everyday reality. During the early 1950s, a white person never had to stand on a Montgomery bus. In addition, it frequently occurred that blacks boarding the bus were forced to stand in the back if all seats were taken there, even if seats were available in the white section.

The Beginning of the End of Segregation

Jim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation (3)

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Louise Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005), a resident of Montgomery, Alabama refused to obey bus driver James Blake’s demand that she relinquish her seat to a white man. She was arrested, fingerprinted, and incarcerated. When Parks agreed to have her case contested, it became a cause célèbre in the fight against Jim Crow laws. Her trial for this act of civil disobedience triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the largest and most successful mass movements against racial segregation in history, and launched Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the organizers of the boycott, to the forefront of the civil rights movement that fostered peaceful protests to Jim Crow laws.

During the early 1960s numerous civil rights demonstrations and protests were held, particularly in the south. On February 1, 1960, in a Woolworth department store in Greensboro, N.C, four black freshmen from North Carolina A & T College asked to be served at the store’s segregated lunch counter. The manager refused, and the young men remained seated until closing time. The next day, the protesters returned with 15 other students, and the third day with 300. Before long the idea of nonviolentsit-in protests spread across the country.

Jim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation (4)

Building on the success of the “sit-ins,” another type of protest was planned using “Freedom Riders.” The Freedom Riders were a volunteer group of activists: men and women, black and white (many from university and college campuses) who roade interstate buses into the deep south to challenge the region’s non-compliance with U.S. Supreme Court decisions (Morgan v. Virginia and Boynton v. Virginia) that prohibited segregation in all interstate public transportation facilities.The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) sponsored most Freedom Rides, but some were also organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

(Video) Jim Crow of the North | Redlining and Racism in Minnesota | Full Documentary

These and other civil rights demonstrations moved President John F. Kennedy to send to Congress a civil rights bill on June 19, 1963. The proposed legislation offered federal protection to African Americans seeking to vote, to shop, to eat out, and to be educated on equal terms.

To capitalize on the growing public support for the civil rights movement and to put pressure Congress to adopt civil rights legislation, a coalition of the major civil rights groups was formed to plan and organize a large national demonstration in the nation’s capital. The hope was to enlist a hundred thousand people to come to attend a March on Washington DC.

Eventually, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act made racial segregation and discrimination illegal. The impact of the long history of Jim Crow, however, continues to be felt and assessed in the United States.

For further reading:

Blackmon, D. A. (2008),Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.New York, NY: Doubleday.

(Video) Jim Crow and America's Racism Explained

Brown, N. L. M., & Stentiford, B. M. (Eds). (2014). Jim Crow: A Historical Encyclopedia of the American Mosaic. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood.

Editorial Board(2018).Documenting ‘Slavery by Another Name’ in Texas.An African-American burial ground recently unearthed in Texas reveals details about an ugly chapter in the history of the American South. The New York Times,April 13, 2018. Retrieved fromhttps://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/13/opinion/texas-slavery-african-american-graveyard.html

Slavery by Another Name. (Documentary film)

Morrison, A. (2020 December 2). US lawmakers unveil anti-slavery constitutional amendment. AP News

Virginia Writers Project. (1940) The Negro in Virginia. New York: Hastings House. (See especially Chapter XXII, Black Laws).

(Video) Jim Crow Era and Racial Segregation

Woodward, C. V. (1966). The Strange Career of Jim Crow.(2nd rev. ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format):Hansan, J.E. (2011). Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. Social Welfare History Project.Retrieved [date accessed]fromhttps://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/eras/civil-war-reconstruction/jim-crow-laws-andracial-segregation/

Resources related to this topic may be found in the Social Welfare History Image Portal.


How did Jim Crow laws violate the 14th Amendment? ›

In Louisiana Court, the Comité argued that the Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments because it did not give equal treatment to African Americans and white individuals under the law. Louisiana ruled that the state had the right to regulate railroad companies within state borders.

Which of the following best describes a Jim Crow law? ›

Jim Crow laws were any state or local laws that enforced or legalized racial segregation. These laws lasted for almost 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until around 1968, and their main purpose was to legalize the marginalization of African Americans.

What was the main rationale for the black codes passed in the South after the Civil War? ›

Southern states enacted black codes after the Civil War to prevent African Americans from achieving political and economic autonomy.

What policies led to desegregation? ›

The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas unanimously found racially segregated schools to be unconstitutional and in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

When were Jim Crow laws deemed unconstitutional? ›

A major blow against the Jim Crow system of racial segregation was struck in 1954 by the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

When did blacks get the right to vote? ›

The original U.S. Constitution did not define voting rights for citizens, and until 1870, only white men were allowed to vote. Two constitutional amendments changed that. The Fifteenth Amendment (ratified in 1870) extended voting rights to men of all races.

What were the Jim Crow laws for kids? ›

Laws forbade African Americans from living in white neighborhoods. Segregation was enforced for public pools, phone booths, hospitals, asylums, jails and residential homes for the elderly and handicapped. Some states required separate textbooks for Black and white students.

When did segregation of schools end? ›

These lawsuits were combined into the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation in schools in 1954.

Which statement best summarizes the experiences of African American voters in South? ›

Which statement best summarizes the experience of African American voters in the South? African Americans lost the voting rights they had in Reconstruction but regained them from the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

What were slaves not allowed to do? ›

There were numerous restrictions to enforce social control: slaves could not be away from their owner's premises without permission; they could not assemble unless a white person was present; they could not own firearms; they could not be taught to read or write, or transmit or possess “inflammatory” literature.

How many slaves got 40 acres and a mule? ›

The long-term financial implications of this reversal is staggering; by some estimates, the value of 40 acres and mule for those 40,000 freed slaves would be worth $640 billion today.

Why was it difficult for Southern free Black people to gain economic independence after the Civil War? ›

Why was it difficult for southern free blacks to gain economic independence after the Civil War? Southern blacks emerged from slavery with no money to begin their new lives, so they had to rely on the crop-lien and sharecropping systems.

How did the 14th Amendment fail to protect Black citizens? ›

By this definition, the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment failed, because though African Americans were granted the legal rights to act as full citizens, they could not do so without fear for their lives and those of their family.

Did the 14th Amendment gave slaves the right to vote? ›

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1868) granted African Americans the rights of citizenship. However, this did not always translate into the ability to vote. Black voters were systematically turned away from state polling places. To combat this problem, Congress passed the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870.

Did the 14th Amendment end slavery? ›

The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was the centerpiece of the Reconstruction Amendments, which together abolished slavery, gave African-American men the right to vote, and guaranteed full citizenship, due process, and equal protection of the laws to all.

What 3 things did the 14th Amendment do? ›

14th Amendment - Citizenship Rights, Equal Protection, Apportionment, Civil War Debt | The National Constitution Center.


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