Who was Jim Crow?
As the 2012 campaign heats up, we’re beginning to see the charge that states who are trying to police their voting procedures are passing “Jim Crow” laws.
After the Civil War and Reconstruction, many state and local jurisdictions passed a series of discriminatory laws that covered a wide range of areas. In the Southern states, their aim was to create de jure racial separation between the races. In Northern states, they were more along the lines of de facto separation.
This separation led to separate and unequal accommodations, services, eating facilities and public transportation. The most noticeable acts of discrimination were separate drinking fountains, restrooms and seating arrangement on public transportation and movie theaters.
Of course, the most impactful measure, particularly in the South, was segregated public education. There were separate school facilities all across the United States. Many of the Northern communities claimed that they were only creating “neighborhood” schools but the impact of this type of discrimination effected generations of African-Americans.
So, where did the term come from? Although discriminatory laws began to be enacted at the end Reconstruction in 1876, the term “Jim Crow” first appeared in 1904, according to the Dictionary of American English.
However, it probably originated in the 1830s with ”Jump Jim Crow“, a song-and-dance caricature of blacks performed by white actor Thomas D. Rice in blackface, which first surfaced in 1832 and was used to satirize Andrew Jackson’s populist policies. It came to be used as a pejorative term meaning “Negro”.
As Democrats returned to power in the South following Reconstruction, they began to enact laws that restricted the civil rights of black freedmen. In many cases, they used violent means to intimidate the freedmen from exercising their right to vote.
By making the voter registration and the electoral laws more restrictive, the white Democrats gradually regained total control of the political process in the South.
Between 1890 and 1910, ten of the eleven former Confederate states, starting with Mississippi, passed new constitutions or amendments that effectively disfranchised most blacks and tens of thousands of poor whites through a combination of poll taxes, literacy and comprehension tests, and residency and record-keeping requirements.Grandfather clauses temporarily permitted some illiterate whites to vote.
Voter turnout dropped drastically through the South as a result of such measures. For example, Alabama had tens of thousands of poor whites disfranchised.
In Louisiana, by 1900, black voters were reduced to 5,320 on the rolls, although they comprised the majority of the state’s population. By 1910, only 730 blacks were registered, less than 0.5 percent of eligible black men. “In 27 of the state’s 60 parishes, not a single black voter was registered any longer; in 9 more parishes, only one black voter was.”
The cumulative effect in North Carolina meant that black voters were completely eliminated from voter rolls during the period from 1896-1904. The growth of their thriving middle class was slowed. In North Carolina and other Southern states, there were also the effects of invisibility: “[W]ithin a decade of disfranchisement, the white supremacy campaign had erased the image of the black middle class from the minds of white North Carolinians.”
Without the right to vote, African-Americans could not serve on juries or run for local political offices. They effectively disappeared from political life in the South. This affected every facet of their lives.
Without the vote, they could not be represented in the state legislatures. This particularly affected funding for public schools. African-American public schools in the South were severely underfunded, thereby impacting the quality of education in the black community.
What eliminated the Jim Crow laws in the South? The primary weapon was the 1964 Civil Rights Act but before that perhaps, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education in which state-sponsored school segregation was declared unconstitutional. The tumultuous years of the 1950s and the 1960s put paid to most, if not all, of the “Jim Crow” laws in the United States.
What we have now is not an effort to restrict voting rights but simply an effort to allow voting for registered voters only. The accusation that requiring photo identification cards for voting is a form of Jim Crow is patently false.
Currently, Americans are required to have a photo ID driver’s license, photo ID to cash checks, photo ID to board a plane. It is a fact of modern American life. Unfortunately, our society has become totally security-conscious.
We have by some counts 1-15 million illegal aliens in this country. Would you want them to affect the next election by illegally voting. I certainly don’t.
As always, it is for you the voters to decide.