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Jim Crow laws

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The Jim Crow laws are a series of segregation laws enacting as early as the 1890's, primarily in the Southern and border states designed to create a "separate but equal" status for black Americans and other non-white racial groups. The enactment Jim Crow began shortly after Reconstruction, but the most stringent restrictions were established following the Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson, which created the "separate but equal" doctrine.

More than 400 state laws constitutional amendments, and city ordinances legalizing segregation and discrimination were passed in the United States between 1865 and 1967 covering every aspect of daily life. 29 laws were passed that specifically dealt with segregation in voting.[1].

Origins and history of Jim Crow and voting

During the Reconstruction period of 1865–1877 in the defeated South (the Confederacy), federal law protected the civil rights of "freedmen" — the liberated African slaves. In the 1870s, white Democrats gradually returned to power in southern states[2] , sometimes as a result of elections in which paramilitary groups intimidated opponents, attacking blacks or preventing them from voting. Gubernatorial elections were close and disputed in Louisiana for years, with extreme violence unleashed during the campaign. In 1877 a national compromise to gain southern support in the presidential election resulted in the last of the federal troops being withdrawn from the South. White Democrats had taken back power in every state. followed, in each Southern state, by a white, Democratic Party Redeemer government that legislated Jim Crow laws segregating black people from the state's population.

Blacks were still elected to local offices in the 1880s, but the white Democrats were passing laws to make voter registration and elections more restrictive, with the result that participation by most blacks and many poor whites began to decrease. Starting with Mississippi in 1890, through 1910 the former Confederate states 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.

Denied the ability to vote, blacks and poor whites could not serve on juries or in local office. They could not influence the state legislatures, and, predictably, their interests were overlooked. While public schools had been established by Reconstruction legislatures, those for black children were consistently underfunded, even within the strained finances of the South. The decreasing price of cotton kept the agricultural economy at a low.

In some cases Progressive measures to reduce election fraud acted against black and poor white voters who were illiterate. While the separation of African Americans from the general population was becoming legalized and formalized in the Progressive Era (1890s–1920s), it was also becoming customary. Even in cases in which Jim Crow laws did not expressly forbid black people to participate, for instance, sports or recreation or church services, the laws shaped a segregated culture.[3]

In the Jim Crow context, the Presidential election of 1912 was steeply slanted against the interests of Black Americans. Most blacks were still in the South, where they had been effectively disfranchised, so they could not vote at all. Poll taxes and literacy requirements banned many Americans from voting, yet, said requirements had loopholes exempting White Americans from these paying the poll tax or knowing how to read. For example, in Oklahoma, anyone qualified to vote before 1866, or who is related to someone qualified to vote before 1866, was exempted from the literacy requirement; the only Americans who could vote before 1866 were, of course, White Americans, so White Americans were exempted from the literacy requirement, while all Black Americans were segregated by law.[4]


  1. Jim Crow Histroy Jim Crow Legislation Overview
  2. Woodward, C. Vann and McFeely, William S. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. 2001, page 6
  3. Woodward, C. Vann and McFeely, William S. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. 2001, page 7
  4. Tomlins, Christopher L. The United States Supreme Court: The Pursuit of Justice. 2005, page 195