Jim Crow

From Jim Crow to Civil Rights

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From Jim Crow to Civil Rights

Jim Crow Laws were a combination of local and state statutes that legitimized racial segregation. The laws that were named after a character in the Black minstrel show existed for 100 years; from post-civil war until 1968. The laws were meant to marginalize people of color by denying them the right to an education, vote, and hold jobs and other job opportunities. People that tried to defy Jim Crow laws faced jail sentences, arrest, violence, death and fines. Jim Crow laws began as early as 1865 after the ratification of the 13th amendment, which declared slavery unconstitutional across the United States. Black codes dictated how and where former slaves could work and for how much pay. The black codes were common in the south and were a legal way of incorporating black people in indentured servitude to control where they lived, take their voting rights and seize children for the purpose of labor. For instance, the codes limited the property black people could own and in excluded them from skilled trades and business.

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 criminalized racial discrimination in public facilities and places such as public transport and restaurants. However, in 1883, the Supreme Court declared the act unconstitutional. In 1896, there was a challenge to the Separate car Act of 1896 that warranted all railroads functioning in the State to provide separate but equal accommodations for white passengers and those of color (Bishop, 2017). Although the separation laws in Louisiana were upheld by an 8 to 1 majority, John Marshall Harlan, a famous dissent, opposed the decision. Harlan advanced the idea that the U.S. constitution is “color blind.” The decision of Plessy v. Ferguson case was later overturned by Brown v. Board of education in 1954. The case brought forth the case of Plessy v. Ferguson before the Supreme Court. This led to separate but equal segregation among white and black populations across the country. Other laws such as miscegenation laws that made cohabitation and marriage with black people illegal only exacerbated segregation. The effects of the Jim Crow laws are that they made it difficult for former slaves to attain economic independence. The segregation in public transport carriers made travel for black people difficult. The equal but separate doctrine led to poor facilities for people of color, including housing and school. Compared to their white counterparts, children of color had limited opportunities. Jim Crow laws made it impossible for people of color to be elected to a public officer, serve on juries, vote and partake as equals in social and economic spheres of life.

Brown v. Board of Education of 1954 was a Supreme Court case that marked the turning point of racial segregation across America. The court made a unanimous decision that racial separation in public spaces, particularly schools violated the 14th amendment of the Constitution (Onwuachi-Willig, 2019). According to the amendment, states could not deny people (irrespective of race) equal law protection within its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court deemed separate schooling facilities to be inherently unequal hence reversing the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of 1896. However, the ruling of Brown v. Board of education only applied to school spaces, but it was meant to imply that racial segregation was not permissible in other public spaces. The guidelines for putting an end to racial segregation were offered, and school boards instructed to proceed with deliberate speed. Years later, Congress passed the Voting Rights of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, all meant to curb racial discrimination against people of color in voting, housing, employment and other sectors of life.


Bishop, D. W. (2017). Plessy v. Ferguson: A reinterpretation. In The Progressive Era in the USA: 1890–1921 (pp. 353-361). Routledge.

Onwuachi-Willig, A. (2019). Reconceptualizing the harms of discrimination: How Brown V. Board of Education helped to further White supremacy. Va. L. Rev., 105, 343.

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