Montgomery County Schools Melissa N. Matusevich July, 1998 Jim Crow Laws Notes for the Teacher Jim Crow laws, named for an antebellum minstrel show character, were late-19th-century statutes passed by the legislatures of the Southern states that created a racial caste system in the American South. Although slavery had been abolished, many whites at this time believed that nonwhites were inherently inferior and to support this belief sought rationalizations through religion and science. The U.S. Supreme Court was inclined to agree with the white-supremacist judgment, and in 1883 began to strike down the foundations of the post-Civil War Reconstruction, declaring the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court legitimized the principle of "separate but equal" in its ruling Plessy vs. Ferguson. The high court rulings led to a profusion of Jim Crow laws. By 1914, every Southern state—including Virginia—had passed laws that created two separate societies—one black, the other white. This artificial structure was maintained by denying the franchise to blacks through the use of devices such as grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests. It was further strengthened by the creation of separate facilities in every part of society, including schools, restaurants, streetcars, health care institutions, and cemeteries. The first major blow against the Jim Crow system of racial segregation was struck in 1954 by the Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. The Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas which declared segregation in the public schools unconstitutional. In the following decade Montgomery County Schools Melissa N. Matusevich July, 1998 the system slowly crumbled under the onslaught of the civil rights movement. The legal structure of segregation was finally ended by the civil rights legislation of 1964-68. Montgomery County Schools Melissa N. Matusevich July, 1998 Examples of Jim Crow Laws Following are examples of Jim Crow laws that enforced the white supremacist social structure of the post-Civil War South. In many locations these laws remained in effect until the 1960s. • In Oklahoma, telephone booths were segregated. Mississippi had separate soft-drink machines for blacks and whites. • In Atlanta, Georgia, an Afro-American could not "swear to tell the truth" on the same Bible used by white witnesses. • In North Carolina, factories were separated into black and white sections. • In some Alabama towns it was against the law for blacks and whites to play cards, checkers, dominoes, or other games together on athletic teams. • In Florida, school textbooks for white and black students were segregated in separate warehouses. • In Washington, D.C., black people could not bury their dead dogs or cats in the same pet cemeteries used by whites. • In many locations public parks were segregated. Even jails and prisons had separate sections for black prison prisoners. • In some states blacks were not allowed to bear arms; • Blacks could not testify against whites; • Blacks were barred from marrying whites; • Blacks, in some locations, were not allowed to receive back pay. Some of the Jim Crow laws seem silly to anyone who has not had to live under them. One law tried to stop black and white cotton-mill workers from looking out the same window! Another, in Birmingham, Alabama, said blacks and whites could not play checkers or dominoes together. In Mobile, Alabama, Negroes had to be off the streets by ten Montgomery County Schools Melissa N. Matusevich July, 1998 o'clock each evening. . . White taxi drivers could not carry black passengers; Negro drivers could not accept white passengers. There were Jim Crow elevators in office buildings. A black child could not buy an-ice-cream cone at a white stand. A black college professor—or any other black American—could not use a public library. Jim Crow was the way of life; its touch soiled each day of a Negro's life. All parts of life were segregated. Laws were passed to prevent marriage between whites and blacks. There were separate hospitals for the two races. White nurses could not treat black men. Even a dying Negro would not be admitted to a "white" hospital. Southern states ran separate orphan homes for black and white children. Some states had separate prisons. If an Afro-American wanted to attend a theater or a movie, he had to buy his ticket at a separate booth, and he had to enter by a separate entrance. He had to sit in the balcony, well apart from any white people. Each black person all his life was kept apart from white people. Then, when he died, he had to be buried from a black funeral home in a black cemetery. This was Jim Crow from birth to death. Montgomery County Schools Melissa N. Matusevich July, 1998 Jim Crow Laws Activity I For a brief period of perhaps two hours, create Jim Crow laws for your class. Begin by telling students that you have just been notified by the principal that your class alone has to follow rules that are different from the rest of the school. Create a list of rules appropriate for this activity. Possibilities include these: • no drinks • recess on a segregated part of the playground with no equipment • eating lunch silently • loss of library privileges • no computer(s) in the classroom (If they can’t easily be removed, bring a large sheet to cover them.) Continue class without comment about the new rules. Do not, at this time, allow a discussion about the rules. At the end of the designated period, have students write how they feel about these new rules. Then, conduct a class discussion. At the end of the discussion, introduce the idea of Jim Crow laws, and provide students with background information about them. A word of caution—do not allow this activity to be carried over night to the next school day. Be sure to end it prior to students going home for the day. Otherwise, you will probably have phone calls from parents expressing concern. Activity II Jim Crow laws continued into the 1960s. Invite a speaker who can remember having to live by them. Have the speaker tell about his or her life and any difficulties experienced in having to live by the laws. Have the speaker Montgomery County Schools Melissa N. Matusevich July, 1998 tell how his or life is different today. Allow students to ask questions they have prepared ahead of time.