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After Reconstruction - Segregation

In 1881 Tennessee enacted the first in a series of laws passed throughout the South segregating public transportation. Additional laws were passed restricting black access to most public accommodations and educational facilities. In 1883 the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was declared un-constitutional and the constitutional laws that were supposed to guarantee African-American citizenship rights were successfully subverted. Following Mississippi's lead in 1890, restrictions on African-American political and legal participation were also put in place.

So-called "Jim Crow" laws continued the social distance between the races by creating separate facilities for blacks and whites. The song "Jim Crow," was written by Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice. In 1828 Rice appeared on stage as "Jim Crow" -- an exaggerated, highly stereotypical Black character. By the 1840s "Jim Crow" was a stock character in minstrel shows, along with counterparts Jim Dandy and Zip Coon.

From the 1880s [into the 1960s], a majority of American states [not simply those of the former Confederacy] enforced segregation through "Jim Crow" laws (so called after a black character in minstrel shows). From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race. The most common types of laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated.

White supremacists enacted "Black Laws" which imposed strict segregation. Schools, churches, restaurants, hotels, public transportation, rest rooms, and water fountains were labeled "white only" or "colored." In hospitals, blacks could not nurse whites, nor could whites nurse blacks. In Alabama, every employer of white or negro males was required to provide for such white or negro males separate toilet facilities. In Florida, 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, were prohibited. In Maryland, all marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent, to the third generation, inclusive, were prohibited.

In the Federal Census of 1890, enumerators were instructed to be " ... particularly careful to distinguish between blacks, mulattoes, quadroons, and octoroons. The word ''black'' should be used to describe those persons who have three-fourths or more black blood; ''mulatto,'' those persons who have from three-eighths to five-eighths black blood; ''quadroon,'' those persons who have one-fourth black blood; and ''octoroon,'' those persons who have one eighth or any trace of black blood."

In the 1890s, southern states began to amend their constitutions and to enact a series of laws intended to re-establish and entrench white political supremacy. Such disfranchising laws included poll taxes, literacy tests, vouchers of "good character," and disqualification for "crimes of moral turpitude." These laws were "color-blind" on their face, but were designed to exclude black citizens disproportionately by allowing white election officials to apply the procedures selectively. Other laws and practices, such as the "white primary,", attempted to evade the 15th Amendment by allowing "private" political parties to conduct elections and establish qualifications for their members. As a result of these efforts, in the former Confederate states nearly all black citizens were disenfranchised and removed from the voting rolls by 1910. For instance, in Louisiana in 1896 there were 130,334 blacks registered to vote; by 1905 only 1,342 were registered. The process of restoring the rights taken stolen by these tactics would take many decades.

Fraudulent voting schemes pushed black elected officials from state legislatures and from Congress. During the late 19th century, there were 20 black members of Congress. When North Carolina's George Henry White left in 1901, there would not be another until 1928, when Oscar DePriest was elected in Chicago. For virtually the first half of the 20th century the 15th Amendment had no value for blacks in the former Confederate states, where they were denied the right to vote through the cynical artifice of poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses.

Jim Crow laws and Black Codes obliterated Reconstruction wins and codified racially based discrimination. The sharecropping system, which left black farmers in debt at the end of every harvest, was equivalent to slavery. Black children were allowed to attend school only during times of the year when there were no farm chores to do. Historian Rayford Logan called the period "nadir of American race relations". Those who got too uppity were lynched, firebombed in their homes and chased from land they owned.

As late as 1920 a resident of Savannah Georgia might comment of a dusky bearer of the white man's burdens, that "In the good old days a "niggah" was as valuable as a mule to-day; no owner, unless he was a fool, would have thought of abusing so costly a possession "any more than he would now his automobile." The golden age of the negro was that in which he was inspected daily, as soldiers are, and sternly held to a certain standard of outward appearance and health. To-day not one out of ten of them was fit to come near a white man. Laziness had ruined them; their native indolence and the familiarity toward them of white men from the North had been their downfall. The South had no fear of race riots, however; those were things only of the North, thanks to the Northerner's false notion of their human possibilities."

In the South, lynching was one of the terrorist tactics used to control and threaten the African-American. Between 1889 and 1918, at least 2,522 black Americans were lynched, 50 of them women. These people were hanged, burned alive, or hacked to death. On this question even the most openminded sons of the South were of the prevailing opinion. "Whatever the North may think," said one of this class, " we are forced to hold the fear of lynching constantly over the negro. In the North you are having far more trouble with them than we. And why? Because you depend on the authorities to curb them. Down here a serious crime by a negro is the general, immediate business of every man with a white skin. We cannot have our wives or daughters appearing on the public witness-stand to testify against an attacking negro. The surest, fairest, most effective, and least expensive means of dealing with a negro criminal is to hang him at once from the nearest limb and go home and forget it. It seems to be the prevailing notion in the North that we are more apt than not to get the wrong man. That does not happen in one case out of a hundred. Our police and our deputy sheriffs know the whole history, the habits, character, and hiding-place of every nigger in their district. When one of the bad ones commits a serious crime, they know exactly where to look for him, and the citizens who go with them take a rope along. Without lynching we would live in mortal terror day and night. As it is, we have far less trouble with the negroes than you do in the North, and the vast majority of them get along better with us than they do with you."

In the South, segregation became the law of the land, a status that was upheld in 1896 when the US Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that "separate but equal" facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional. In the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, segregated schools were declared unconstitutional. This landmark decision sparked the modern Civil Rights movement. Led by Martin Luther King Jr., in the 1950s and 1960s blacks engaged in a series of nonviolent protests throughout the country to bring about the end of segregation and racial domination.

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