Jim Crow laws have rightly become relics, but the backward, prejudiced and discriminatory ideas and behaviors behind them should never be forgotten. This pervasive set of laws adversely affected black United States citizens in almost every aspect of their lives until as recently as the 1960’s. Thankfully, they are now discredited, unenforced vestiges of a dark, sad era of discrimination against American citizens of African descent. Ironically, these laws can provide a beneficial legacy if they are acknowledged, repudiated and relegated to the ash heap of history.
“From the 1880’s into the 1960’s, a majority of American states enforced segregation through ‘Jim Crow’ laws (so called after a black character in minstrel shows). From Delaware to California, and from North Dakota to Texas, many states (and cities, too) could impose legal punishments on people for consorting with members of another race” (University of Dayton, 2009). Per that passage, these backward laws unfortunately spread across the country, but their origins, and most instances of the discriminatory statutes, were a product of southern state legislatures.
“States throughout the South passed laws designed to prevent black citizens from improving their status or achieving equality” (American Radio Works, 2009). This pervasive set of discriminatory statutes left few opportunities for a fair and good life for African American citizens. Almost every imaginable facet of life was hindered for these minority citizens, and these ill-conceived laws even followed black victims to their death. From housing, education, and entertainment to transportation, treatment of the handicapped, and burial, African Americans were plagued and stifled by these onerous, omnipresent laws.
Bigoted lawmakers were zealous in their efforts, and produced a dizzying, far-flung collection of oppressive statutes. From Louisiana, for example, “any person who shall rent…to a negro person or a negro family when such building is already in whole or in part in occupancy by a white person or family… shall be guilty of a misdemeanor” (University of Dayton, 2009). A law from Florida simply and coldly states that “the schools for white children and the schools for negro children shall be conducted separately” (American Radio Works, 2009).
The realm of entertainment and leisure was not spared. “Negros” were targeted when restaurants and the toilets within the eateries were required to be segregated according to race. Circuses, theaters, and even baseball teams were treated with the same discriminatory policies. Public buses and railroads were not exempt from this pervasive and tragic set of laws since “colored people” were required to sit in separately partitioned areas away from Caucasians. The handicapped and the infirm were not spared the additional indignities that these laws imposed.
From a law in Louisiana, “the board of trustees shall…maintain a separate building…on separate ground for the admission, care, instruction, and support of all blind persons of the colored or black race” (University of Dayton, 2009). And from Georgia, a “Jim Crow” law followed blacks to their tomb as “the officer…shall not bury, or allow to be buried, any colored persons upon ground set apart or used for the burial of white persons” (University of Dayton, 2009).
These are but a few, tragic examples of the plight that African American citizens of the United States endured until the 1960’s. It is staggering to realize that we are less than a half century removed from these harrowing injustices. Therefore, these despicable “Jim Crow” laws must never be forgotten or repeated. References American Radio Works. (2009). americanradioworks. publicradio. org. University of Dayton. (2009). academic. udayton. edu.