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Jim Crow Laws: The Segregation of the African-American in the United States of the 19th Century

Perhaps one of the most discussed events of the history of the United States is undoubtedly the situation of African-American individuals during the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. From the moment the first black slaves arrived to Virginia in the first part of the 17th century, racism and unjustified violence and hate towards African-American were observed; the southern states of the United States dominated over the slaves market and the African-American were left to be considered less than human and animals.

It wasn't until the late years of the 19th century that the United States were legislated by the Jim Crow laws. The Jim Crow Laws were a revolution in themselves all the while being a curse; it allowed the White Americans to exert their power over the black population in a way that has never been seen before, with the segregation in all public places -- at the same time, the Jim Crow Laws are what ultimately pushed individuals such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King to defy those ill-fated laws and rules, eventually leading to an equal situation between races in the United States.

The objective of this paper is to shed the light on the origins of the Jim Crow Laws and discuss about the impact of those laws on the history of the United States. In the following will also be discussed the hardship of the black population during those years, the migration of the black population to the northern states and the civil rights movement.

The Jim Crow Laws

At the contrary of many other American legislatures who took their names after the name of the individual who instigated the laws and rules, the Jim Crow Laws took their name elsewhere.

Beginning in the early 1830's, a new form of theater emerged, referred to as 'blackface'. This type of performance entailed a white actor playing the part of a stereotyped African-American, a sort of satire performance mostly used in minstrel shows at the time until it became a popular form of performance on its own during the early 20th century. A famous blackface performer, Thomas Dartmouth Rice, created the character Jim Crow for his performances. Rice created the phenomenon in the prime age of blackface: "In June and August of 1840, T.D. Rice appeared as "Jim Crow" and other blackface characters at New York's Bowery Theater."

The song 'Jump Jim Crow' was widely acclaimed at all theaters where Rice performed his act and soon became a staple of the blackface theater art. Jim Crow then became a highly pejorative adjective used to refer to African-American individuals and eventually lent its name to the Jim Crow Laws.

The Jim Crow Laws were active from 1876 to 1965; at the origin they were supposed to be a way of offering the black population with an equal but separate status in the southern states. In reality, they turned out to be an ensemble of laws ruling the segregation and relenting the African-Americans to be considered as a lower class of human beings, as opposed to their 'equal' status. The Jim Crow Laws were in action as a mean to segregate the African-Americans in many public locations such as schools, restaurant, public transportation, etc.: "In addition to attending their own schools, black were not permitted to use many public facilities. Oftentimes, they had to use their own facilities, such as the water fountain…."

A very well-known example of this is the rule that forced the colored people to sit at the back of the public bus, separated from the white population at the front of the bus.

Hardship of the African-American Population

As aforementioned, the Jim Crow Laws were originally a way to offer an equal (but separate) status for the African-American population. What happened in reality is very different than the theory on which the Jim Crow Laws were based. The black population of the United States suffered severe hardship during those years and endured a living situation that was degrading and unfair. The Jim Crow Laws could easily be defined as an 'anti-black' set of rules; the African-Americans were not allowed in certain public spaces and were denied many basic rights, such as voting for example. Coming from a background of slavery in the southern states, this may have been a small improvement from their previous situation, but the truth is that this situation was no better. African-Americans were teased and laughed at, being forced to stay separate from the rest of the population if not simply banned from many public spaces and locations, denied essential services and entirely regarded as less human than the white population. Any black individuals who would disobey or break the laws and rules, such as riding a white-only railway car for example, would be arrested, fined and sometimes even convicted of a serious offense. Train stations would feature a 'black-only' waiting room, to allow the African-Americans to wait for their train in a separate environment, public schools were segregated as well; African-Americans were simply not allowed anywhere near the holy white population. "From the 1940s through the 1960s, as enforcement of Jim Crow laws intensified, black people were constantly kept from having the same access to public facilities as whites."

Such a treatment forced many African-American families to seek shelter in the northern states, where the Jim Crow Laws were not in action.

The Great Migration

As a mean to escape from the social hardships experienced in many southern states due to the Jim Crow Laws, the black population migrated towards the north in an effort to create a better situation for themselves. It was between 1910 and 1920 that the black population in many northern cities almost doubled, as a result of this mass migration of the African-American community. People from segregated states such as Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi were quickly moving towards greener pastures; since many young white soldiers had left the country to fight the war or simply didn't return from their oversea assignment, there were many jobs and employment opportunities that the black population was glad to take over. The migration resulted in an urbanization of the African-American population and in a decline of murders and violent crimes committed in the southern states towards the black individuals.

The Civil Rights Movement

While a good amount of the African-American population had moved to the northern states as early as 1910, the southern states were still harvesting a fairly important amount of black individuals. Crimes of hate and racism were still being committed and the segregation was nowhere near a happy ending. The situation to which the African-Americans were being subjected pushed the birth of the Civil Rights Movement, a revolution like none other. One of the key events, the Rosa Parks situation, was considered to be the trigger of the movement. It was on December 1st 1955 that Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white individual -- this situation led to the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott which then led to the desegregation of the public buses in 1956. The bus segregation fight is certainly one of the famous manifestation of the era: "The world remembers Parks, the seamstress who sat in defiance of bus segregation, and King, the young minister who led the 381-day refusal by Blacks to ride undignified in the back of Montgomery's city buses."

The Civil Rights Movement is basically considered to be a series of event that helped restored dignity and humanity amongst the black population of the Southern States. Besides Rosa Parks, another internationally known figure of this movement would certainly be Martin Luther King, an heroic figure of the United States. Using nonviolent methods and the teachings of Ghandi, Martin Luther King greatly helped with the advancement of the civil rights, the elimination of racial segregation and racial discrimination. Led by powerful figures, the Civil Rights Movement pushed the African-American to stand up for themselves and find a way out of their situation. "The regular meetings in the African churches, originally ones of jubilation, quickly became the basis for constructing a discourse about freedom and organizing large-scale mass protest."

In Conclusion

The Jim Crow Laws were instigated at a moment in history where racial discrimination was at its peak; a country dubbed 'The Land of Opportunity' was forcing black individuals to stay separate from the white Americans, reducing them to animals, to less than human beings. The irony in this statement is obvious; it was perhaps because of this injustice that the late 20th century became known for movements and manifestations leading to a better situation for all, an equal opportunity for all races co-existing in the same country that is the United States.

While we now live in a society that is much more accepting of differences, races and colors, racial discrimination and hate crimes are still being committed…[continue]

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