Social scientists, societal opinion-shapers and ordinary members of American demographic component have all converged in their opinions that racism has been one of the major social, political and economic problems in America. Even though this problem has refused to be completely erased even in the contemporary times, never has it been as prevalent as its presence during the historical times. The end of slavery was viewed in some quarters as the beginning of equality amongst Americans of white and colored origins, but that was not the case. White superiority became the overriding factor in American social, political and economic spheres. The coloreds had no place worth recognition and were viewed as lesser beings by the virtue of their pigmentation. The need for laws to give this social dilemma a legislative flavor became inevitable, with Jim Crow laws emerging as the most dominant. This paper makes an attempt at examining the Jim Crow laws as one of the racial and discriminative laws enforced throughout America, with specific focus on the South, during the late 19th century across the 1960s. The paper will discuss a prelude to the laws, the laws themselves (1860-1890), voting restrictions, enforced racial segregation and the broader racial discrimination in addition to conclusions.
Prelude to Jim Crow laws
During the transformation period dating from 1865-1877, federal law decreed the provision of civil rights protection to former slaves who had become American citizens by constitutional right. The 1870s saw a historical political wave sweep through the Southern legislatures, with Democrats regaining power across the voting blocs through the use of malicious insurgency paramilitary groups and disruptions to outshine Republican officeholders, and intimidate black voters (Wormser 159). Extensive political fraud was equally used. Gubernatorial elections were looming around and had been subjected to dispute in Louisiana for many years, with the increase of violence against blacks during and after the 1868 campaigns. The Democratic Party reached a national compromise to attract Southern support over the presidential election resulting in the governments withdrawal of federal soldiers from the South. White-origin Democrats had accumulated political power in all Southern States. Official racism became the end result, with the white-dominated Southern governments legislating Jim Crow laws to openly segregate black Americans from the white population.
The accumulation of political power by the white-dominated Democrats in Southern American states created the need for a caste like system to safeguard the white Americans from the encroaching threats emerging from their black counterparts. The American population was growing at an alarming rate, with the black Americans displaying a tendency to have a significant impact on American politics as their voting power indicated an unprecedented increase. National statistics at this time showed a worrying trend in the black-dominated Southern States as compared to the demographic statistics in the North. White Americans saw the need to implement the necessary laws to encounter the emerging but otherwise untamable threat to their domination of the American public (Kennedy 127). The first Jim Crow law to surface was the literacy test initially instituted in Mississippi. The underlying argument in the formulation of this law was to ensure that blacks were restricted from voting during electioneering periods, and to equally ban them from holding public offices of political nature. Several arguments came forth to give weight to the ridiculousness of the literacy test law. A large section of the white groups opined that there was a direct correlation between the voting process and understanding the instructions relating to it. As such, only Americans who were sufficiently literate had the ability to vote since they could understand the attached instructions on the voting papers (Internet resource). It is worth noting that literacy was purely white dominated. The lives of black Americans sorely revolved around the provision of manual labor for a large part of the population, with once in a while cases of literate blacks who had the opportunity to go through the educational system. Manual labor then, and as it is in the contemporary society could not be compared to white collar labor in terms of financial rewards. While the white-collar labor providers received remarkable rewards in appreciation for their services, their manual-labor counterparts received peanuts for their backbreaking services (Jayne 139). This reality created a perfect avenue for white supremacists to further curtail the participation of blacks in the American voting process. A poll tax was introduced. The poll tax demanded that participation in the voting process could only occur after the potential voter paid the formulated poll tax. The introduction of the poll tax was geared towards eliminating a targeted section of the American population from the voting process (Hoffer & Plessy 438). As pointed earlier, the black segment of the American population at this historical time survived on meager manual labor payments as opposed to their white counterparts who were well rewarded for their white-collar labor provision. This in essence meant that participating in the electoral voting process was by far out of their reach. The fine print of white domination was laid bare, and nothing could come against it.
Voting Restrictions (1890)
The poll tax was not sufficient enough. The need to be politically heard and felt gave black Americans reasons to circumvent the taming power of poll tax by ensuring majority of them met their end of the bargain to ensure they were not excluded from the voting process. More measures needed to be crafted, and the white supremacists pulled more from their hat tricks. In 1890, constitutional and legislative amendments were passed by various American Southern states to include the Grandfather clause. The clause created new requirements for property and residency restrictions, poll taxes payment and literacy tests to facilitate voter registration. A number of Southern states exempted its citizens whose grandfathers had voting rights prior to the civil war from such requirements. The effect and intent of the requirements was to block illiterate and poor Black-American former slaves including their descendants from the voting process, but without blocking their equally illiterate and poor white counterparts from voting (Hillstrom 273). The spirit of the Grand clause advocated for permitting White-Americans to be politically heard and felt despite the open existence of illiteracy and poverty among them on one hand, while blocking Black-Americans undergoing similar fate from the same process on the other.
Enforced Social Segregation
Jim Crow laws needed expansion to attain its ultimate goal of disenfranchising Black-Americans. The state of Tennessee amended its original Jim Crow law to mandate the separation of train cars for black passengers. Mississippi, Texas and Florida followed suit with the enactment of similar laws as the decade progressed, with more Southern states joining the bandwagon (George 174). In this case, the amount of transportation cost was not commensurate with the quality of services offered, but the skin color was. Historical documents indicate overpopulation in Black-American boarded cars, discriminative treatment and direction of contemptuous attitude towards Black-Americans by railways employees, as opposed to the fair and preferential treatment received by their white counterparts from the same employees. Learning institutions were not spared from the enforced social segregation (Better 98). The prevailing reality at this time was that no public school admitted mixed races. Public school admission was on a pure racial basis, with the white-dominated public schools being heavily funded in terms of books, teaching staff and auxiliary staff. The black-dominated public schools had its worse share, being poorly funded and understaffed (Fremon 314).
The enforced racial segregation had a spiral effect on the ordinary citizenry, with catapulting negative side effects. White-Americans made no attempts at hiding their hatred for Black-Americans. Several discriminative scenarios became daily occurrences in most American states, even when Black-Americans deserved fair approval (Alexander 19). The historical Jack Johnson versus Jim Jeffries, where Johnson, A black-American won fairly, stands out as a major case in point. With Jeffries defeat, white-American instigated mob violence broke out in many cities, leading to the deaths of many blacks and few whites through stoning and lynching.
In conclusion, the Jim Crow laws were nothing but a deliberate attempt by white-Americans who having believed that their race was comparatively superior to black-Americans deserved an unchallengeable dominion over all matters American. This kind of white-American delusion was crafted to encompass all areas of importance including but not limited to the economy, politics and the American social sphere.
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2003 The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow: New York: St. Martin's Press. Print.
Hillstrom, Laurie C.
2009 The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics.
2011 Governing the Conduct of Nonwhites and Other Minorities As Second-Class Citizens. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
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2009 Race and Inequality in Jim Crow America: Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
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