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.
After the American Civil War ended in April 1865, white Southerners living in the defeated Confederacy faced an uncertain social, economic, and political future. Many, disappointed in the outcome of the conflict and fearful of vengeful reprisals from the victorious Union government, decided to leave the United States altogether and start afresh in a foreign land.