By Jacqueline Jones and Henry Wiencek
In the late nineteenth century, white Southerners imposed a system of constraints on African Americans, denying blacks their Constitutional rights, and, indeed, their human rights. This system—often violently enforced—was called “Jim Crow,” named after a minstrel song that stereotyped blacks. It included the disfranchisement of black men, the forcible segregation of blacks from whites in public spaces, and forms of state-sanctioned terrorism such as lynching, which included hanging, mutilating, and burning victims alive.
“Jim Crow” shaped the South’s judicial and public education systems, employment structure, and patterns of landownership. Black people were limited to the most menial kinds of jobs, and sharecroppers found it difficult if not impossible to escape chronic indebtedness to their landlord-employers. In effect, white Southerners were determined to replace the institution of slavery with a new set of constraints enforced by white judicial officials, politicians, religious leaders, and lynch mobs.
For their part, African American Southerners protested “Jim Crow” by forming advocacy organizations, educational and religious institutions; boycotting and protesting against segregated facilities; and moving north.
The “Jim Crow” project included the creation of a white identity based in part on the glorification of the “Lost Cause”— the myth that before the Civil War, the south was an idyllic place populated by gracious planters and contented slaves. The Lost Cause found tangible expression in the many statues and other memorials dedicated to the Confederacy and the soldiers who fought for it.
The erasure of slavery and “Jim Crow” from the historical record has distorted the teaching of U. S. history in both the South and the rest of the country. As communities finally begin to discuss and remove remnants of the Confederacy from public spaces, it is vital that all of us confront and fully understand this history.
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Michael Perman, Struggle for Mastery, Disfranchisement in the South. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001
Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South, edited by William H. Chafe, Raymond Gavins, Robert Korstad. New York: The New Press, 2014
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Carl R. Weinberg, “The Strange Career of Confederate History Month,” OAH Magazine of History, Vol. 25, No. 2, Civil War at 150: Origins (April 2011), pp. 63-64
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The Library of Congress has a Teacher’s Guide to American segregation, including several documentary resources
Library of Congress collection of photographs and documents specifically relating to Brown v. Board of Education and its aftermath
Blackpast.org has compiled a large trove of primary documents that tell the story of segregation from colonial Louisiana to present day America
Oral histories, videos and documents that specifically recount the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia
Interviews with several individuals who participated in the Civil Rights Movement in Danville, Virginia
A new digital history project that uses GIS mapping software to visualize housing segregation in Washington, DC
An NEH piece documenting “Massive Resistance” to school integration in small towns in the South [also includes a lot of great photographs]
A two-volume Congressional report on Mississippi’s 1875 constitutional convention. Here is volume 1 and here is volume 2.
National Humanities Center, The Making of African American Identity
The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow, the website of this PBS special has stories, maps, documents, and activities for teachers.
You might also like these NEP articles on Slavery and its legacy in the US and further reading on Confederate flags, monuments, and historical myths.