Tuesday, December 25, 2007


JIM CROWISM Following the Compromise of 1877 and the with­drawal of federal troops from the South, a concerted and success­ful attempt was made by white southerners to restore white rule and white supremacy throughout the region. The black freed-men, first by terror and intimidation and later by law, were deprived of the right to vote and returned to a state of quasi-bondage. The process through which this was accomplished in­volved the institutionalization of Jim Crowism.

The original meaning of the term Jim Crow is not known, al­though the term itself was derived from a song and dance called "Jim Crow" written by Thomas D. Rice in 1832: "Wheel about, turn about, Do jis so. An' ebery time I wheel about I jump Jim Crow." During the late nineteenth century, the expression Jim Crowism was used in reference to racial segregation. A Jim Crow law, therefore, was a law which provided for racial seg­regation. More recently, the expression has been used in a broader context to refer to the whole system of racial proscrip­tion, including disfranchisement, which evolved during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Using such "legal" devices as poll taxes, literacy tests, good-character references, gerrymandering, grandfather clauses and the Democratic white primary, southern whites were effectively able to disfranchise all but a handful of black voters. These devices, coupled with occasional violence against "uppity nig­gers" who for one reason or another did qualify to vote, insured the return of white rule and supremacy to the South. By the turn of the twentieth century, Senator Ben Tillman of South Carolina was able to reflect upon the process of black disfran­chisement: "We have done our level best. We have scratched our heads to find out how we could eliminate the last one of them. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it."

With white rule restored, southern legislatures were given a free hand to enact Jim Crow laws which would relegate blacks to the humiliating status of second class "citizenship." Segrega­tion of the races in virtually every human activity from thecradle to the grave had become solidly and "legally" entrenched throughout the South by the beginning of the first World War. Separate and appropriately labeled ["For White People" and "For Colored People"] facilities effectively established the so-called color-line in the South. Moreover, this pattern of Jim Crowism was reenforced and given national legal sanction when the Supreme Court of the United States in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) ruled that separate facilities for the two races were legal provided that the facilities were "equal" in nature. This "separate but equal" doctrine, however, was generally translated as meaning "separate and unequal" in the South. Invariably, facilities provided for whites were far superior to those provided for blacks.

Although Jim Crowism is usually thought of as being a distinctly southern phenomenon, it should be noted that formal racial seg­regation existed throughout the North as well. Beginning with the Civil War, northern Jim Crowism was in full-blossom. His­torian Leon F. Litwack has written that northern blacks "found themselves systematically separated from whites. They were either excluded from railway cars, omnibuses, stagecoaches, and steamboats or assigned to special "Jim Crow" sections; they sat, when permitted, in secluded and remote corners of theaters and lecture halls; they could not enter most hotels, restaurants, and resorts, except as servants; they prayed in 'Negro pews' in the white churches, and if partaking of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, they waited until the whites had been served the bread and wine. Moreover, they were often educated in seg­regated schools, punished in segregated prisons, nursed in segre­gated hospitals, and buried in segregated cemeteries." See also: CIVIL RIGHTS CASES, COMPROMISE OF 1877, DISFRAN-CHISEMENT, FREE NEGROES and PLESSY V. FERGUSON.

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