People Places Events In History Terms Organizations
Home Invites Members Groups Events Careers Videos News Photos Blogs Polls Forums Chat
Home > Black History Terms > Post Content

"Jim Crow" (43389 hits)

“Jim Crow”

Background and Summary

The Jim Crow laws were state and local laws enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States and enforced between 1876 and 1965. They mandated "separate but equal" status for Black-Americans. In reality, this led to treatment and accommodations that were almost always inferior to those provided to White-Americans. The Jim Crow period or the Jim Crow era refers to the time during which this practice occurred. The most important laws required that public schools, public places and public transportation, like trains and buses, have separate facilities for Whites and Blacks. These Jim Crow laws were separate from the Black Codes of 1800 through 1866, which had restricted the civil rights and civil liberties of Blacks. State-sponsored school segregation was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 in the case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. Generally, the remaining Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act; none were in effect at the end of the 1960s.

During the Reconstruction period, years 1865 to 1876, federal law provided civil rights protection in the South for freed people—the Blacks who had formerly been slaves. Reconstruction ended at different dates, the latest being 1877, and was followed in each Southern state by “Redeemer governments that passed the Jim Crow laws to separate the races. In the Progressive Era these restrictions were formalized, and segregation was extended to the federal government by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.

After 1945, the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum and used the federal courts to attack Jim Crow laws. The Supreme Court declared legal, or de jure, public school segregation unconstitutional in 1954. The court ruling did not stop de facto, or informal school segregation, which continued in large cities. President Lyndon B. Johnson, building a coalition of northern Democrats and Republicans, pushed Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which immediately annulled Jim Crow laws such as segregated restaurants, hotels and theatres. The Voting Rights Act ended discrimination in voting for all federal, state and local elections.

In the first years of presidential Reconstruction, all White Southern legislatures overwhelmingly dominated by ex-Confederates, abolished laws regarding slavery but turned around and passed the Black Codes, which gave new rights to freed slaves but still fewer than those that Whites possessed. The North reacted against those codes, never making them effective in any state. Instead, radical Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that gave freed people legal rights, but did not give them the right to vote. By 1870, the 14th and 15th Amendments to the  Constitution were passed, guaranteeing civil rights and the right to vote for all. The Southern states came under Republican control— a party comprising freed people, White Southerners known as "Scalawags" and migrants from the North known as "Carpetbaggers." The Ku Klux Klan and other racial supremacist groups reacted violently, but they were suppressed by President Ulysses S. Grant who used the federal courts and troops to enforce these new laws. By 1877, the conservatives and Democrats, forming a “Redeemer Coalition,” ousted all the Republican governments. From 1877 until the 1970s, Southern Democrats largely controlled every Southern state.

After 1877, the Redeemers reversed many of the civil rights gains that Blacks had made during Reconstruction by passing laws that mandated discrimination by both local governments and by private citizens. Since "Jim Crow law" is a blanket term for any of this type of legislation, the date of inception for the laws varies by state. The most important laws came in the 1890s when railroad cars in New Orleans were segregated. This was the first real Jim Crow law. By 1915, every Southern state had effectively destroyed the gains in civil rights and liberties that Blacks had briefly enjoyed from the Reconstructionist efforts.

The Grounds of Jim Crow

The term “Jim Crow” comes from the minstrel show song "Jump Jim Crow," written in 1828 and performed by Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice, a White New Yorker and the first popular “blackface performer. The song and blackface itself were an immediate hit. A caricature of a shabbily dressed rural Black man, "Jim Crow" became a standard character in minstrel shows. He was often paired with "Zip Coon," a flamboyantly dressed urban Black man who associated more with White culture. By 1837, Jim Crow was being used to refer to racial segregation in all the way up to Vermont.

Many of the discriminatory laws were enacted to support racial segregation in everyday life. They required Black and White people to use separate water fountains, public schools, public bath houses, restaurants, public libraries, buses and rail cars. Although, even without legal segregation, the desire of the White majority to use the frequently inferior facilities set aside for Black use was limited.

Between 1890 and 1920, many state governments prevented most Blacks from voting by various techniques, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. These could be waived for Whites by grandfather clauses, until this was found to be unconstitutional in 1915. It is estimated that of 181,000 Black males of voting age in Alabama in 1900, only 3,000 were registered to vote. The following examples of segregation are excerpts from examples of Jim Crow laws shown on the National Park Service website. The examples include anti-miscegenation laws that forbade any interracial marriages or unions. Anti-miscegenation laws were not repealed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but were declared unconstitutional in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia.

Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 legislation introduced by Charles Sumner and Benjamin F. Butler on March 1, 1875. It guaranteed that everyone, regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude, was entitled to the same treatment in "public accommodations," such as inns, public transportation on land or water, theaters and other places of public amusement.

In 1883, the Supreme Court restricted the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to actions by state and local government. It ruled Congress could not control private persons or corporations. After Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875, it did not pass another civil rights law until 1957.

Believed Superiority

In 1890, Louisiana passed a law requiring separate accommodations for people of color and White passengers on railway trains Louisiana law distinguished between "White," "Black" and "colored" that is, people of mixed White and Black ancestry. The law already had provided that Blacks could not ride with White people, but colored people could ride with whites prior to 1890. A group of concerned Black, colored and White citizens in New Orleans formed an association dedicated to the repeal of the law. They persuaded Homer Plessy, who was only one-eighth "negro" and of fair complexion, to test it. In 1892, Plessy purchased a first-class ticket from New Orleans on the East Louisiana Railway. Once he had boarded the train, he informed the train conductor of his racial lineage and took a seat in the Whites-only car. He was directed to leave that car and sit instead in the "coloreds only" car. Plessy refused and was immediately arrested. The Citizens Committee of New Orleans fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. They lost in 1896, and Plessy v. Ferguson resulted in 58 more years of legal discrimination against Black and colored people in the United States.

When Black soldiers returning from World War II refused to put up with the second class citizenship of segregation, the movement for Civil Rights was renewed. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Committee and its lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, brought the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., before the Supreme Court. In 1954, the court unanimously overturned the 1896 Plessy decision in this ruling; Marshall later became the first Black Supreme Court Justice.

The Supreme Court held in the Civil Rights Cases in 1883 that the 14th Amendment did not give the federal government the power to outlaw private discrimination, and then held in Plessy v. Ferguson that Jim Crow laws were constitutional as long as they allowed for "separate but equal" facilities. In the years that followed, the court made this "separate but equal" requirement a hollow phrase by approving discrimination even in the face of evidence of profound inequalities in practice.

Jim Crow laws were a product of the solidly Democratic South. As the party which supported the Confederacy, the Democrats quickly dominated all aspects of local, state, and federal political life in the post-Civil War South, right up through the 1970s. As late as 1956, a resolution called the Southern Manifesto, which condemned the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, was read to the Congressional Record and supported by 96 Southern congress members and senators, each one a Democrat.

The Jim Crow laws were a major factor of the “Great Migration during the early part of the 20th century, wherein thousands of newly-freed Black people moved to the Northern parts of the nation where there was more opportunity and acceptance. Because opportunities were so limited in the South and Jim Crow laws were debilitating, Blacks moved in great numbers to Northern cities to seek a better life.

While Black entertainers, musicians and literary figures had broken into the “White” world of American art and culture after 1890, Black athletes found obstacles confronting them at every turn. By 1900, White opposition to Black boxers, baseball players, track athletes and basketball players kept them segregated and limited in what they could do. But their prowess and abilities in all-Black leagues and teams could not be denied, and the barriers to Black participation in all the major sports began to crumble by the 1950s and 1960s.

In the 20th century, the Supreme Court began to overturn Jim Crow laws on constitutional grounds. In Buchanan v. Warley in 1971, the court held that a Kentucky law could not require residential segregation. In 1946, the Supreme Court, in Irene Morgan v. Virginia, ruled segregation in interstate transportation to be unconstitutional, though its reasoning stemmed from the commerce clause of the Constitution rather than any moral objection to the practice. It was not until 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that the court held that separate facilities were inherently unequal in the area of public schools, effectively overturning Plessy v. Ferguson, and finally outlawing Jim Crow in other areas of society as well. This landmark case consisted of complaints filed in the states of Delaware, Gebhart v. Belton; South Carolina, Briggs v. Elliott; Virginia, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County; and Washington, D.C., Spottswode Bolling v. C. Melvin Sharpe. These decisions, along with other cases such as McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Board of Regents (1950), NAACP v. Alabama (1958), and Boynton v. Virginia (1960), slowly dismantled the state-sponsored segregation imposed by Jim Crow laws.

Dismantling Segregation

In addition to Jim Crow laws, in which the state compelled segregation of the races, businesses, political parties, unions and other private parties to create their own Jim Crow arrangements, barring Blacks from buying homes in certain neighborhoods, from shopping or working in certain stores, from working at certain trades, etc., also occurred. The Supreme Court outlawed some forms of private discrimination in Shelley v. Kraemer in 1948, saying that "restrictive covenants" that barred sale of homes to Black or Jewish or Asian people were unconstitutional on the grounds that they represented state-sponsored discrimination.

The Supreme Court was unwilling, however, to attack other forms of private discrimination; it reasoned that private parties did not violate the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution when they discriminated because they were not "state actors" covered by that clause.

After World War II, as attitudes in the Federal courts turned against segregation, the segregationist White governments of many of the states of the Southeast countered with increased and stricter segregation laws on the local level until the start of the 1960s. The Civil Rights Movement is often considered to have been sparked by an act of civil disobedience against Jim Crow laws when Rosa Parks, an Black woman, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a White man after being ordered to do so by the bus driver. Her action, and the demonstrations that it spawned, led to a series of legislation and court decisions in which Jim Crow laws were repealed or annulled.

However, the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. which followed Parks' action, was not an isolated case. Numerous boycotts and demonstrations against segregation had occurred throughout the 1930s and 1940s. These early demonstrations achieved positive results and helped spark political activism. For instance, K. Leroy Irvis of Pittsburgh's Urban League led a demonstration against employment discrimination by Pittsburgh's clothing department stores in 1947, and he became the first Black person in the 20th century to serve as a state Speaker of the House.

In 1964, the U.S. Congress attacked the parallel system of private Jim Crow practices. It invoked the commerce clause to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in public accommodations. This use of the commerce clause was upheld in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States in 1964.

In 1971, the Supreme Court, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, upheld desegregation busing of students to achieve integration.

States and Their Jim Crow Laws:


 "All passenger stations in this state operated by any motor transportation company shall have separate waiting rooms or space and separate ticket windows for the white and colored races."


Various laws from 1884 to 1947 prohibited marriage or s*xual relations between whites and blacks or mulattoes, providing for specific fines and imprisonment of up to three years. 

Various laws from 1891 to 1959 segregated rail travel, streetcars, buses, all public carriers, race tracks, gaming establishments, polling places, washrooms in mines, tuberculosis hospitals, public schools and teachers' colleges.

A poll tax was first imposed in the 1890s.


 "All marriages between a white person and a Negro, or between a white person and a person of Negro descent to the fourth generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited."

"Any Negro man and white woman, or any white man and Negro woman, who are not married to each other, who shall habitually live in and occupy in the nighttime the same room shall each be punished by imprisonment not exceeding twelve (12) months, or by fine not exceeding five hundred ($500.00) dollars."

"The schools for white children and the schools for Negro children shall be conducted separately."


 "All persons licensed to conduct a restaurant, shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to the two races within the same room or serve the two races anywhere under the same license."

"It shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race."


"Any person who shall rent any part of any such building to a Negro person or a Negro family when such building is already in whole or in part in occupancy by a white person or white family, or vice versa when the building is in occupancy by a Negro person or Negro family, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine of not less than twenty-five ($25.00) nor more than one hundred ($100.00) dollars or be imprisoned not less than 10, or more than 60 days, or both such fine and imprisonment in the discretion of the court."


"Any person...who shall be guilty of printing, publishing or circulating printed, typewritten or written matter urging or presenting for public acceptance or general information, arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and Negroes, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fine or not exceeding five hundred (500.00) dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months or both."

North Carolina

"Books shall not be interchangeable between the white and colored schools, but shall continue to be used by the race first using them. "

"The state librarian is directed to fit up and maintain a separate place for the use of the colored people who may come to the library for the purpose of reading books or periodicals."

South Carolina

"No persons, firms, or corporations, who or which furnish meals to passengers at station restaurants or station eating houses, in times limited by common carriers of said passengers, shall furnish said meals to white and colored passengers in the same room, or at the same table, or at the same counter."

"It shall be unlawful for any parent, relative, or other white person in this State, having the control or custody of any white child, by right of guardianship, natural or acquired, or otherwise, to dispose of, give or surrender such white child permanently into the custody, control, maintenance, or support, of a negro."


Twenty-seven Jim Crow laws were passed in the Lone Star state from 1866 to 1958. Some examples include:

1925: Required racially segregated schools.

1950: Separate facilities required for white and black citizens in state parks

1953: Public carriers to be segregated

1958: No child compelled to attend schools that are racially mixed. No desegregation unless approved by election. Governor may close schools where troops used on federal authority.


"Every person...operating...any public hall, theater, opera house, motion picture show or any place of public entertainment or public assemblage which is attended by both white and colored persons, shall separate the white race and the colored race and shall set apart and designate...certain seats therein to be occupied by white persons and a portion thereof, or certain seats therein, to be occupied by colored persons."

"The conductors or managers on all such railroads shall have power, and are hereby required, to assign to each white or colored passenger his or her respective car, coach or compartment. If the passenger fails to disclose his race, the conductor and managers, acting in good faith, shall be the sole judges of his race."

Sources:;  The History of Jim Crow—Inside the South;; LBJ for Kids; United States Department of Justice Introduction To Federal Voting Rights Laws.

Posted By:
Tuesday, January 8th 2008 at 1:32PM
You can also click here to view all posts by this author...

Report obscenity | post comment
Share |
Please Login To Post Comments...

More From This Author
"Uncle Tom"
The Transatlantic Slave Trade
United Negro College Fund (UNCF)
"Affirmative Action"
March On Washington
Forward This Term Entry!
Black History Terms Home
Employer Showcase
>> more | add
Latest Jobs
Lecturer in History with Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX.
College Production Assistant with W.W. Norton & Company in New York, NY.
32200 - Records Management Coordinator with Minnesota Department of Human Services in Anoka, MN.
Assistant Director, Residential Life with Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.
Academic Integration Specialist - Purdue University with Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN.
>> more | add
Latest Member Activity
oliver crump just posted a post entitled 'the most romantic places for first sex'. 12:25PM
oliver crump just became a new member. 12:08PM
elly moss just commented on a blog entitled 'testing 1 2 3 can you hear me '. 11:20PM
elynor moss just commented on a blog entitled 'phil jackson in conversation with john salley'. 02:27PM
antonia cummins just commented on a blog entitled 'where are the friends.....'. 02:44AM
antonia cummins just became a new member. 02:43AM
elynor moss just posted a article entitled 'the secret history of south asian & african american solidarity'. 03:08PM
david johnson just became friends with elynor moss. 09:23PM
elynor moss just became friends with david johnson. 09:23PM
robert gamble just edited his profile. 09:21AM
david johnson just commented on a term entitled 'sundown town'. 06:49AM
barry smith just became a new member. 01:40PM
>> more | invite friends