“Separate but Equal”
The Jim Crow laws were state and local laws in the United States enacted between 1876 and
1965. They mandated de jure racial segregation in all public facilities, with a supposedly
"separate but equal" status for black Americans. In reality, this led to treatment and
accommodations that were usually inferior to those provided for white Americans,
systematizing a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages.
Some examples of Jim Crow laws are the segregation of public schools, public places and public
transportation, and the segregation of restrooms and restaurants for whites and blacks. The
U.S. military was also segregated. These Jim Crow Laws were separate from the 1800-66 Black
Codes, which had also restricted the civil rights and civil liberties of African Americans. State-
sponsored school segregation was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the
United States in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. Generally, the remaining Jim Crow laws
were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
During the Reconstruction period of 1865–1877 federal law provided civil rights protection in
the South for "freedmen" — the African Americans who had formerly been slaves. In the 1870s,
white Democrats gradually returned to power in southern states, sometimes as a result of
elections in which paramilitary groups intimidated opponents, attacking blacks or preventing
them from voting. Gubernatorial elections were close and disputed in Louisiana for years, with
extreme violence unleashed during the campaign. In 1877 a national compromise to gain
southern support in the presidential election resulted in the last of the federal troops being
withdrawn from the South. White Democrats had taken back power in every Southern state. 
The white, Democratic Party Redeemer government that followed the troop withdrawal
legislated Jim Crow laws segregating black people from the state's white population.
The Civil Rights Act of 1875, introduced by Charles Sumner and Benjamin F. Butler, stipulated a
guarantee 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,
theaters, and other places of recreation. This Act had little impact. A 19th c. Supreme Court
decision ruled that the act was unconstitutional in some respects, saying Congress was not
afforded control over private persons or corporations. With white southern Democrats forming
a solid bloc in Congress with power out of proportion to the percentage of population they
represented, Congress did not pass another civil rights law until 1957.
In 1890, Louisiana passed a law requiring separate accommodations for colored and white
passengers on railroads. Louisiana law distinguished between "white," "black" and "colored"
(that is, people of mixed white and black ancestry). The law already specified that blacks could
not ride with white people, but colored people could ride with whites before 1890. A group of
concerned black, colored and white citizens in New Orleans formed an association dedicated to
rescinding the law. The group persuaded Homer Plessy, who was only one-eighth "Negro" and
of fair complexion, to test it.
In 1892, Plessy bought 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 Plessy v.
Ferguson (1896), in which the Court ruled that "separate but equal" facilities were
constitutional. The finding contributed to 58 more years of legalized discrimination against
black and colored people in the United States.
In the early 1950s the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
concentrated on bringing an end to segregation on buses and trains. In 1952 segregation on
inter-state railways was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. This was followed in
1954 by a similar judgment concerning inter-state buses. However, states in the Deep South
continued their own policy of transport segregation. This usually involved whites sitting in the
front and blacks sitting nearest to the front had to give up their seats to any whites that were
African American people who disobeyed the state's transport segregation policies were
arrested and fined. In 1956 African Americans, led by Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks,
organized the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Transport segregation continued in some parts of the Deep South, so in 1961, a civil rights
group, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) began to organize Freedom Rides. After three
days of training in non-violent techniques, black and white volunteers sat next to each other as
they travelled through the Deep South. On their journeys they also campaigned against other
forms of racial discrimination. They sat together, in segregated restaurants, lunch counters and
hotels. This was especially effective when it concerned large companies who, fearing boycotts
in the North, began to desegregate their businesses.
In 1964, President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, managed to persuade Congress to pass the Civil
Rights Act. This made racial discrimination in public places, such as theaters, restaurants and
hotels, illegal. It also required employers to provide equal employment opportunities. Projects
involving federal funds could now be cut off if there was evidence of discriminated based on
color, race or national origin.