Segregated Laws

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					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

     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
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
• In many locations public parks were segregated. Even
  jails and prisons had separate sections for black prison
• 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
• 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.

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