Jim Crow and Racial Segregation

A Virtual Exploration of the Civil Rights Movement

By Georgia Public Broadcasting

Pictured in blackface, this sheet music cover depicts entertainer Thomas Rice performing the minstrel song "Jump Jim Crow" from 1831.

Jim Crow became the common phrase used to describe the series of formal laws and informal practices used in the South to enforce racial segregation.

Jim Crow Blackface IllustrationGeorgia Public Broadcasting

By the late nineteenth century, challenges to the system of segregation were emerging. Most notably was Plessy v. Ferguson, a pivotal case that called into question the constitutionality of Louisiana's Separate Car Act, a statute mandating separate railway cars for black and white patrons.

Homer Plessy was arrested for violating the Act by riding in a white car and refusing to leave. After filing suit, his case eventually went before the United States Supreme Court in 1896 where justices affirmed that Mr. Plessy's 14th Amendment rights had not been violated by separate cars as long as the facilities were equal.

Jim Crow Car IllustrationGeorgia Public Broadcasting

In the years after the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were passed, southern states used a variety of practices to prevent African Americans from exercising their constitutional right to vote.

These practices included a poll tax to be be paid when a citizen attempted to vote. Notice the receipt (pictured) indicates that the money is intended "for the support of the public schools."

Poll Tax ReceiptGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Citizenship test portion of Voter's Registration ActGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Voter Registration Restrictions 

Besides poll taxes, African Americans in the South were subject to a variety of voter registration restrictions. This Georgia application from 1949 requires applicants to answer 10 out of 30 questions correctly. Questions typically required knowledge of local, state, and national politics and were designed to prevent citizens who may have lacked a formal education from successfully registering.  

Jim Crow Laws and Racial SegregationGeorgia Public Broadcasting

William Edward Burghardt "W. E. B." Du Bois was born in the North during Reconstruction. He graduated from Fisk University by the age of 20 and went on to become the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard.

Du Bois wrote and taught prolifically, including 20 years as a professor at Atlanta University. His belief in the education of a "Talented Tenth" of African Americans led to his strong philosophical disagreements with Booker T. Washington.

WEB DuBois (1919-05-31) by C.M. BatteyGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Booker Taliaferro Washington was born into slavery in 1856. His determination to be educated led him to Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute and eventually to Wayland Seminary. In 1881, he helped establish the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute where he served as principal.

In his controversial "Atlanta Compromise" speech in 1895 he proposed the acceptance of racial segregation along with the ideals of hard work and vocational training.

Booker T. WashingtonGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Atlanta Exposition Speech (page 4) (1895-09-18) by Booker T. WashingtonGeorgia Public Broadcasting

The Atlanta Compromise Speech

The Cotton States and International Exposition opened in Atlanta on September 18, 1895. Booker T. Washington addressed the crowds of political and business leaders as well as southern onlookers. He gave what became known as the Atlanta compromise speech, wherein he offered a counterpoint to the opinion of contemporary W. E. B. Du Bois. Washington controversially called for African Americans to accommodate themselves to the realities of the New South and reject agitation in exchange for increased rights and status.   

Born into slavery in 1858, Alonzo Franklin Herndon was sent away from home by his father, a white plantation owner. After years of sharecropping and manual labor, he taught himself barbering, moved to Atlanta, and became a partner in a prestigious barbershop.

As an intrepid entrepreneur, within decades he had opened several shops, incorporated the Atlanta Mutual Life Insurance Association to protect the largely underserved black community of Atlanta, and purchased numerous real estate investments. At the time of his death in 1927, he was the wealthiest African American in Atlanta.

Alonzo HerndonGeorgia Public Broadcasting

What Caused the Atlanta Race Riots?Georgia Public Broadcasting

After several nights of rioting, Governor Joseph M. Terrell called for National Guard reinforcements from six Georgia cities. Here, military officers correspond about the level of violence that has erupted and the force needed to maintain peace in Atlanta.

Georgia National Guard on the Atlanta Race RiotGeorgia Public Broadcasting

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Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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