Jim Crow System: Legislation

Figure 1.--An African America boy named Ben grew up in the South. Unfortuntely we do not have his last name. He looked white, but was as a result of Jim Crow laws was legally black. Ben has writen about his experiences as a boy with a white appearance growing up in a African American environment. It should be noted that only 1/16 African Amnerican ancestry meant that you were classified as African American. And that 1/16 perceon could have been of mixed ancestry. The photo was taken during 1947 at a YMCA summer camp. He reportedly later moved north to New York where there was no Government imposed discrimination. A reader objects to our use of this image because we do not have Ben's last name and confirmed details about his life story. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

The system enacted by state legislatures across the South was called Jim Crow. It was a racial caste system. It was primarily created in the southern and border states where slavery had flourished before the Civil War, but was not entirely limited to those states. It was created by state law or municipal ordinances. It began to developed as the Federal Troops were removed from the states that had joined the Confederacy. This was completed during the Hayes presidency (1877-81). Segregation was at first generally informal. State legislatures gradually passed Jim Crow Laws to formally segregate public facilities. Many of these laws were passed in the 1890s as race relation deteriorated. It was at this time that the infamous 'white' and colored' signs appeared. Under Jim Crow, blacks became second class citizens, eventually denied the right to vote. This also determined who served on juries as the lists were generally drawn from the voter registration lists. Intermarriage was made illegal. The Southern states had race laws before the Civil War defining just who was black which set limits on who could be enslaved. And there were many indentured servants who were often white. Deciding who was white and black was generally informal until the 19th century. As the slave system became more hardened, state legislatures began passing race laws. This generally meant people who were 1/16th black, but because slavery passed along matrilineal lines and there were freed blacks there was a range of variation. And as legal documents going back generations often did not exist. Thus there were numerous legal battles and the courts considered physical appearance, blood fraction, and community association to be relevant factors. After the Civil War the old slave codes were invalidated because slavery had been definitively abolished by the 13th Amendment. But as Jim Crow laws were passed, the state as with slavery had to define who was white and who was black to determine how individuals were to be classified. Generally the states used the same measure to define blacks as in slave days--1/16 black ancestors. Here appearance had no force of law--only the persons ancestors. There were differences in Jim Crow laws from state to state, but essentially every aspect of life from birth in hospitals to burial grounds were covered by the Jim Crow laws. The further south you went, the more comprehensive the legal system buttressing segregation became.


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Created: 6:34 AM 3/28/2015
Last updated: 10:48 PM 10/28/2018
Last updated: 2:36 AM 12/1/2019