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To set the stage for the civil rights movement, you must first understand the environment of segregation in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. What was life like in Jim Crow America? Cut and paste this information into a new page in your Unit 8 Online ISN.
You and your partner are African Americans who have lived through the era of Jim Crow in America. Using the links provided in this activity, respond to the “oral history questions” in first person.


Right after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was ratified. What did the 14th Amendment provide for African Americans? What does “due process” and “equal protection of the laws” mean? 14th LINK
The 14th amendment was one of the three amendments passed after the Civil War that focused on the rights of African Americans. The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments are called the Reconstruction Amendments. The 14th amendment guarantees the African Americans that were once slaves can become citizens of the United States with equal rights. This amendment overruled the Dred Scott Decision from 1857, which excluded slaves from having any rights. This amendment made it illegal for any state to deny a citizen their rights. "…Without due process…" means that there are certain steps that need to be taken, such as a court hearing, in order to take a citizen’s rights away. “Equal protection of the laws” means that the laws of a state must treat an individual the same way as others in similar conditions and situations.


Unfortunately, your equal rights were challenged by the Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. What do you remember about the facts, decision, and impact of this case? Plessy LINK

In 1982, Homer Plessy was arrested for sitting in the “White” car of the train. Even though he had an extremely light complexion, he was still supposed to sit on the “Colored” car of the train. Louisiana had adopted a Segregated Car Act, officially separating the trains. Plessy’s case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Plessy argued that the Segregated Car act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. The judge at the trial was John Howard Ferguson, who had said earlier that the Separate Car Act was "unconstitutional on trains that traveled through several states." In Plessy's case, however, he decided that the state could choose to regulate railroad companies that operated only within Louisiana. Ferguson found Plessy guilty of refusing to leave the white car. Plessy’s case then appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, which supported Ferguson's decision. Then in 1896, the Supreme Court heard Plessy's case again and found him guilty. Speaking for a seven-person majority, Justice Henry Brown said, "The Separate Car Act does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery...is too clear for argument...A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races -- a distinction which is founded in the color of the two races, and which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color -- has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races...The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either." Justice John Harlan, the only judge that disagreed with Brown stated, "Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens…” The Plessy case also initiated the idea that separate facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional as long as they were equal. The Separate but Equal Doctrine was quickly created and spread. This doctrine prevented African American facilities from being inferior to white facilities. This doctrine was ended in 1954 in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case.


The laws developed in the South became known as Jim Crow laws. Who was this Jim Crow fellow? Did he write the laws? Jim Crow LINK
Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice wrote a song that included these words:
"Come listen all you galls and boys,
I'm going to sing a little song,
My name is Jim Crow.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb'ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow."

Rice performed this song and dance around the country and he was one of the first white men to wear black face makeup. Whites were willing to watch depictions of blacks dancing and acting like fools. Jim Crow became the nickname for African Americans; its connotation however was not as negative as “nigger.” By the end of the 19th century, the name Jim Crow was no longer used to describe blacks, but more often used to describe the laws which demoralized African Americans. Rice was soon regarded as the "Father of American minstrelsy." Minstrel shows become popular throughout the country before the radio and movies became widespread, this would have been from 1850 to 1870. Imitators, such as the “Virginian Minstrels,” were beginning to blacken their faces as well. These plays initiated and spread the stereotypes that blacks were “lazy, stupid, inherently less human, and unworthy of integration.” As blacks faced terrible racism, they were lynched in addition to being “victimized by the racist caricatures propagated through novels, sheet music, theatrical plays, and minstrel shows.” Rice, who had once become very rich due to his minstrel shows, died in poverty in 1860.

I was outraged that these minstrels that only spread these false stereotypes! I have had the good fortune to meet incredibly education African Americans and it only makes me feel proud of my ethnicity. I know that we have the full capability to strive with the same opportunities as whites.


What are some specific examples of the Jim Crow laws from southern states? How did the laws affect you? Jim Crow Laws LINK 1 / Jim Crow Laws LINK 2 / Jim Crow Laws LINK 3

Segregation existed in almost every element in our lives. We were forced to attend segregated schools. Railroads cars were even segregated, but at least we recieved equal accommodations. You could spot segregation signs almost everywhere, in restaurants, movie theaters, and many other public places, each reminded us to stay in our place. Many neighborhoods started to not allow certain groups and races to live there, including African Americans and Jews.

An African American man could not offer his hand to shake with a white man, and if he would offer it to a white woman, he would quickly be accused of raping her. African Americans and whites weren't allowed to eat together either, and if they were to do so, the whites would be served first and some kind of barrier would have to be put between them. It was also illegal for white people and us to play together or even practice dice, dominoes, or checkers. We weren't even allowed to kiss or show intimacy in public because it offended the whites!

Stetson Kennedy, the author of Jim Crow Guide gave the following advise to Africa Americans:
  1. "Never assert or even intimate that a White person is lying"
  2. "Never impute dishonorable intentions to a White person"
  3. "Never suggest that a White person is from an inferior class"
  4. "Never lay claim to, or overly demonstrate, superior knowledge or intelligence"
  5. "Never curse a White person"
  6. "Never laugh derisively at a White person"
  7. "Never comment upon the appearance of a White female"


What did Jim Crow America look like in the 1900s? What are some images that can help explain the realities of the time? Jim Crow Images LINK 1 / Jim Crow Images LINK 2
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Whites would always be separate from blacks. The blacks would always be at the back of public places. Blacks were put places where they would be less visible to other white customers. This was also a time when you would see lynched and tarred and feathered African Americans. There was no equality between the two races. There would be many signs that said "whites only" or "no niggers".



What happened in the Scottsboro Case? How did it make you feel as an African American in the South? Scottsboro LINK
The Scottsboro Case was an unfair court case that tried nine young blacks of raping two white women. The blacks had been aboard a train with a group of white hobos when a fight broke out. The blacks kicked the whites off the train. These men alerted the stationmaster who stopped the train in the city of Paint Rock. When the blacks were rounded up by armed gaurds they discovered two white women who had been hiding in the train car. The women were afraid that they might be prosecuted because of their sexual activities on the train with the white men the women agreed to testify that the nine blacks had raped them. The Alabama court convicted all of the nine (except the youngest who was 12) to the death sentence. The Supreme Court overturned the convictions. They all served at least six years in jail.

When I heard about this I was outraged! They had no evidence! This is just the African Americans against whites. The blacks do not have any voice so the whites of course are going to win. This is unbelieveable. America is not a land of equality!

What do some of your friends and family say about life in Jim Crow America? (listen to one or two) Audio History LINK 1
It is rough for blacks and you always are fearing for your life. Joseph Holloway was raised in the north and on the way to meet his relatives he and his family were almost victims of a lynching. They made a wrong turn and found themselves in the middle of a town that was in the middle of buring another African American alive. They hid and got away but it was a very close call. My friend, T.R. Davidson lived in the deeper south. He wasx lucky enough to get an opportunity to presume the career he loved. That was airplanes. He got his flying license but once he recieved it he realized that he would never find a job. Who would possibly hire a black pilot? This is how most African American laws went.