What Were Jim Crow Laws?

Dan Cavallari

As civil rights struggles became more and more prevalent in the United States during the last part of the 19th century and most of the 20th century, state and local laws known as Jim Crow laws defined what many U.S. citizens felt to be "separate but equal" treatment for African Americans. The laws were prevalent in the south but were not exclusive to that area. These laws provided the backbone for racial segregation and were considered, later in the twentieth century, to be a violation of civil rights and therefore unconstitutional.

The Jim Crow laws forced segregation of African American people from white people.
The Jim Crow laws forced segregation of African American people from white people.

The term Jim Crow originated, supposedly, from a white actor who portrayed a black man with that name, but it also may have originated from a song and dance caricature that poked fun at African Americans in the early to mid-nineteenth century. Jim Crow laws first appeared shortly after the Civil War when the federal government began to return power to the southern states. Under federal law, freed slaves were guaranteed civil rights, but as white Democrats in the south began to regain control of state governments – often through aggressive means, including voter intimidation and outright violence — Jim Crow laws began segregating African Americans from the rest of the white population.

Rosa Parks helped bring the problem of segregation to light when she refused to move from her seat on a segregated bus.
Rosa Parks helped bring the problem of segregation to light when she refused to move from her seat on a segregated bus.

These laws allowed for segregation in businesses, neighborhoods, schools, and other facets of daily life. African Americans were forced to use separate sections of buses and trains, sit in separate sections of restaurants, and attend separate schools than white Americans. This type of segregation led to fierce civil rights struggles, especially in regards to laws that segregated schools. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled on a landmark case, Brown vs. Board of Education, that segregation in schools was inherently unequal, thereby abolishing segregation in public schools. The practice, however, continued for several more years, resulting in more racial tensions and often violence.

The demise of these laws did not come all at once. Several key events — including Rosa Parks’s refusal to move from her seat on a segregated bus, as well as several bus boycotts — built up and provided enough tension in society that the question of segregation finally had to be dealt with. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a major proponent of ending Jim Crow laws as well. After years of campaigning, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, effectively ending Jim Crow laws. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 continued on that sentiment, disallowing segregation in all elections. Unfortunately, many discriminatory practices persisted until the early to mid 1970’s in the form of violence or outright defiance, and some of the segregationist sentiment still exists today throughout parts of the United States.

The United States Supreme Court overturned a Jim Crow law in 1954 when it abolished school segregation.
The United States Supreme Court overturned a Jim Crow law in 1954 when it abolished school segregation.

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Discussion Comments


I still can't believe that if those brave men and women had never stood up for their rights, we would probably still be living like that. It's just unbelievable.


"All men are equal" is stated in the Declaration of Independence. Yet, slavery went on. None gave significance to the law. The government at first couldn't ban slavery. But, it gave the states an option to have slavery in their state. The Jim Crow Laws demanded segregation between the blacks and whites and provided separate facilities for both races. Later, Plessy V. Ferguson claimed "separate but equal." How was it separate but equal when facility conditions were poor for blacks and classy for whites? How was it separate but equal when blacks weren't allowed to be where the whites were? How can one be punished for something he or she didn't do deliberately?

Black people didn't wake up one morning and color themselves black. White people didn't wake up one morning and paint themselves white. It is an inborn physical appearance which one can't change, but with today's technology one can change his or her color if they wanted. Being white doesn't mean pure and being black doesn't mean filthy. So why is it blackmail and not white mail? I'm not black and I'm not white, but racism or any type of inequality or injustice to any individual aggravates me.


I still do not understand why African Americans were treated as if they were aliens. If you were to cut a white man open and a black man open, I am pretty sure you would see the same thing at the least.


I took a few history courses back when I was in high school. I always thought history is suppose to teach us a lesson, hence the quote "Those who do not know their history, are doomed to repeat it" and it seems that half of our world does not know their own history.

I still see racism in society every day. I'm not here to say its "sad" or "stupid." It was and is a mistake. It is never too late to correct it, and people have. Martin Luther King, Gandhi and many more people have dedicated their lives to us, so we could be here, not working in an eight hour labor job with a low wage every day.

We don't appreciate how lucky we are. I do because I know my history, my religion and I do not only thank god, I thank all those groups and individuals who have made it possible to be in a safer environment and you can help this. You can change things in your society, and one way to start is always remember: don't take your life for granted.


it's sad how people do this and makes me mad how we did it and we shouldn't because we only differ with our personality and race and we shouldn't be separated because of our color. I'm sure we all want to meet someone different from us in many ways.


the sad thing is that racisim is taught! it's not an inborn behavior, not to mention in the US who is 100 percent pure anything?


this is the worst thing that humans can ever do. people in those days were not very wise i guess.


This is so unfair and stupid of people. It also is kind of sad.


i can't believe some would be so selfish and separate people in public places just because of their race. being both black and white, it's upsetting that whites are still racist and blacks still make excuses.

what is the point of racism? we talk about how horrible the germans were to the jews and the whites to the blacks, but people after learning and hearing these things are still racist.

being racist is childish. we need to get over ourselves and the past and see past people's skin. your skin color doesn't define who you are.


they were really stupid back then.


in those times it was hard for the black americans and it was stupid for how they were treated. All men should be created equal, not unequal.


I think the whole thing about jim crow is stupid!


This whole thing is stupid. I'm doing an english project on this because were reading "a lesson before dying" and it's really upsetting.


It is stupid that educated people back then thoguth that they were any better than any other race. What a load of mashed potatoes!


I am doin a report on the Jim Crow laws and I really hate the idea of segregation. All people should be treated equal!


That was a very sad and disappointing time in life.


i think this is the most stupid thing anyone could have ever done. how would you like to be treated like that

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