Jim Crow Laws

Jim Crow Laws were laws established to promote racial segregation, especially after the federal government stopped enforcing the promotion of Civil Rights in the south in 1877 (after Reconstruction).

After the Civil War, the federal government passed the 13th (prohibiting slavery), 14th (due process to all citizens), and 15th (the right to vote for all citizens) amendments, as well as The Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875. These amendments and acts were specifically designed to protect the civil rights of black people. After 1877(when the government stopped enforcing civil rights), the southern white people in power (known as Redeemers) immediately sought to take away the civil rights of black people that had been granted by twisting the language of the new laws to subjugate black people. Such laws mandated racial discrimination and became known as Jim Crow Laws (named after a racist cartoon strip of a poor, uneducated black man). Jim Crow laws came in many forms. For example, once such law required black people to “qualify” to vote by paying poll taxes, or, by reciting the entire Declaration of Independence or Constitution from memory. In 1883, the Federal Government ruled that it did not have the power to prohibit private segregation and maintained that separate facilities (including schools, restaurants, drinking fountains etc.) were constitutional provided that facilities were “equal”, in the famous Plessy v. Ferguson 163 US 537 (1896) case. Of course “equal facilities” were never at all equal. Other laws required black people to sit in the back of public buses, prohibited interracial marriage, and limited employment opportunities for black people.

Although these laws were eventually deemed unconstitutional (most not until the 1950’s and 1960’s), severe racism and discrimination toward black people continued to dominate the culture of some parts of the south for seventy or eighty years.

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