Jim Crow: Who Is He and What Is He To You?

EndSons & Daughters of Trans-Atlantic AFRIKA Begin


Founder: Clarence J Renfroe



Jim Crow:

Jim CrowWho is he and what is he to you?

A minstrel character


Jump Jim Crow is a song and dance from 1828 that was done in blackface by white comedian Thomas Dartmouth (T.D.) “Daddy” Rice. The first song sheet edition appeared in the early 1830s, published by E. Riley. The number was supposedly inspired by the song and dance of a crippled African in Cincinnati called Jim Cuff or Jim Crow. The song became a great 19th century hit and Rice performed all over the country as Daddy Jim Crow.


Jump Jim Crow was a key initial step in a tradition of popular music in the United States that was based on the mockery of African-Americans. A couple of decades would see the mockery genre explode in popularity with the rise of the minstrel show. It was also the initial step in the still extant tradition in popular music of incorporating African styles and subject matter.


The tune became very well known not only in the United States but internationally; in 1841 the USA ambassador to Central America, John Lloyd Stephens, wrote that upon his arrival in Mérida, Yucatán, the local brass band played “Jump Jim Crow” under the mistaken impression that it was the USA’s national anthem.


With time Jim Crow became a term often used to refer to African-Americans, and from this the laws of racial segregation became known as Jim Crow laws.

The expression to jump Jim Crow came to mean “to act like a stereotyped stage caricature of a black person”.


Come, listen, all you gals and boys, I’m just from Tuckyhoe;

I’m gwine to sing a little song, My name’s Jim Crow.

Chorus: Wheel about, an’ turn about, an’ do jis so;

Eb’ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.

I went down to de river, I didn’t mean to stay,

But there I see so many gals, I couldn’t get away.

I’m rorer on de fiddle, an’ down in ole Virginny,

Dey say I play de skientific, like massa Pagganninny.

I cut so many munky shines, I dance de galloppade;

An’ w’en I done, I res’ my head, on shubble, hoe or spade.

I met Miss Dina Scrub one day, I gib her sich a buss;

An’ den she turn an’ slap my face, an’ make a mighty fuss.

De udder gals dey ‘gin to fight, I tel’d dem wait a bit;

I’d hab dem all, jis one by one, as I tourt fit.

I wip de lion ob de west, I eat de alligator;

I put more water in my mouf, den boil ten load ob ‘tator.

De way dey bake de hoe cake, Virginny nebber tire;

Dey put de doe upon de foot, an’ stick ’em in de fire.


If you understand that, let me know.


Jim Crow was and is a caste system initiated and primarily operated in the southern and the border states of the Civil War that also extended itself to various other state north and west. A series of anti-Black laws that placed the new citizens of America the African-Americans as second class which was legitimized by Christian ministers and theologians who taught such things as White people being the chosen people of GOD and Black people was cursed to servants to White people which was supported by GOD.


There were craniologists, eugenicists, phrenologists, as well as social Darwinist on every educational level that deemed African-Americans as being intellectually and culturally inferior to European-Americans. There were pro-segregation White politicians who gave speeches and addresses that expressed the fears of integration and the possible mongrelization of their white race. Just as you see today in movies and the sort; newspapers, magazines and other publications and media content referred to African-Americans as niggers, coons, darkies, shine and worst, and there were even children games that portrayed African-Americans as being inferior. Most social institutions supported the oppression of African-Americans.


Besides Jim Crow laws which were supported thru state legislation there was Jim Crow social etiquette:

  • A Black man could not offer his hand to shake to a White man because it implied being social equal. Obviously, a Black man could not offer his hand or any other part of his body to a White woman without the risk of being accused of rape.
  • Blacks and Whites were not suppose to eat together and if they did eat together, White people were served first and there were some sort of partition placed between them.
  • Under no circumstances was a Black male to offer to light a cigarette of a White female, for it was viewed as a gesture of intimacy.
  • Black people were forbidden from public displays of affection with one another especially kissing for it offended White people.
  • Blacks were introduced to Whites and never the opposite of White to Blacks: (“Mr. Whitman (the White person), this is Charlie (the Black person) that I spoke to you about.”) Noticed no title or sir name for the African-American (Black person).
  • White people did not use courtesy titles of respect when referring to Black people such as Mr., Mrs., Miss., Sir, and Ma’am. Black were referred to and called by their first name but Black people had to use courtesy titles when referring to White people and were to never call them by their first name. Doesn’t this sound familiar even today especially in the workplace.
  • If a Black person rode in a car driven by a White person, the Black person either sat in the back of the car or rode in the back of a truck.
  • White motorist had the right-of-way at interceptions, always.


Stetson Kennedy, the author of Jim Crow Guide, offered these simple rules that Blacks were suppose to observe in conversing with Whites:

  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.

This nonsense is still going on today. I know this personally to be a fact.  This is also prevalent within the African-American culture and the various Black sub-cultures.


Jim Crow etiquette worked in conjunction with Jim Crow laws better know as Black Codes which excluded African-Americans (Blacks) from public transportation and facilities, juries, jobs, and neighborhoods as well. One would figure by the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution would give Black people (African-Americans) equal protection and rights under the law as White people (European-Americans) but the election of 1877 in which Rutherford B. Haynes, a Republican, who became president, the southern and border states as well as some northern states began to restrict the liberties of Black people as it was a part of the Compromise of 1877. (Refer to Reconstruction)


The Supreme Court, in the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896, helped to undermine African-Americans and strengthen Jim Crow laws and the Jim Crow way of life via Jim Crow etiquette. Supreme Court Plessy vs Ferguson

 The ruling in this Supreme Court case upheld a Louisiana state law that allowed for “equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races.”


In 1890 the state of Louisiana passed the “Separate Car Law” which was suppose to aid in the comfort of passenger by creating “equal but separate” or ‘separate but equal’ cars for African-Americans (Blacks) and for European-Americans (Whites) which was a ruse because no public accommodations whether it be transportation via railways or motored vehicle such as buses made African-Americans comfortable with equal facilities.  Well, in 1891 a group of African-Americans decided to test the Jim Crow Law and in that group was Homer A. Plessy who was seven-eights (7/8ths) European-American and one-eights (1/8th) African-American, thus African-American, sat in the ‘Whites Only’ railroad car. Needless to say, he was arrested and his lawyer argued that the state of Louisiana had no right to label on person as White and another person as Black for the sole purpose of restricting and infringing on their rights and privileges.


During the era of Reconstruction, black Americans political rights were affirmed by three constitutional amendments and numerous laws passed by Congress. Racial discrimination was attacked on a particularly broad front by the Civil Rights Act of 1875. This legislation made it a crime for an individual to deny the full and equal enjoyment of any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color.


In 1883, the Supreme Court struck down the 1875 act, ruling that the 14th Amendment did not give Congress authority to prevent discrimination by private individuals. Victims of racial discrimination were told to seek relief not from the Federal Government, but from the states. Unfortunately, state governments were passing legislation that codified inequality between the races. Laws requiring the establishment of separate schools for children of each race were most common; however, segregation was soon extended to encompass most public and semi-public facilities.


Beginning with passage of an 1887 Florida law, states began to require that railroads furnish separate accommodations for each race. These measures were unpopular with the railway companies that bore the expense of adding Jim Crow cars. Segregation of the railroads was even more objectionable to black citizens, who saw it as a further step toward the total repudiation of three constitutional amendments. When such a bill was proposed before the Louisiana legislature in 1890, the articulate black community of New Orleans protested vigorously. Nonetheless, despite the presence of 16 black legislators in the state assembly, the law was passed. It required either separate passenger coaches or partitioned coaches to provide segregated accommodations for each race. Passengers were required to sit in the appropriate areas or face a $25 fine or a 20-day jail sentence. Black nurses attending white children were permitted to ride in white compartments, however.


In 1891, a group of concerned young black men of New Orleans formed the Citizens Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law. They raised money and engaged Albion W. Tourge, a prominent Radical Republican author and politician, as their lawyer. On May 15, 1892, the Louisiana State Supreme Court decided in favor of the Pullman Company’s claim that the law was unconstitutional as it applied to interstate travel. Encouraged, the committee decided to press a test case on intrastate travel. With the cooperation of the East Louisiana Railroad, on June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy, a mulatto (7/8 white), seated himself in a white compartment, was challenged by the conductor, and was arrested and charged with violating the state law. In the Criminal District Court for the Parish of Orleans, Tourge argued that the law requiring separate but equal accommodations was unconstitutional. When Judge John H. Ferguson ruled against him, Plessy applied to the State Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition and certiorari. Although the court upheld the state law, it granted Plessy’s petition for a writ of error that would enable him to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justices


In 1896, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. Justice Henry Brown of Michigan delivered the majority opinion, which sustained the constitutionality of Louisianans Jim Crow law. In part, he said:

We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it The argument also assumes that social prejudice may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured except by an enforced commingling of the two races If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.


In a powerful dissent, conservation Kentuckian John Marshall Harlan wrote:

I am of the opinion that the statute of Louisiana is inconsistent with the personal liberties of citizens, white and black, in that State, and hostile to both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution of the United States. If laws of like character should be enacted in the several States of the Union, the effect would be in the highest degree mischievous. Slavery as an institution tolerated by law would, it is true, have disappeared from our country, but there would remain a power in the States, by sinister legislation, to interfere with the blessings of freedom; to regulate civil rights common to all citizens, upon the basis of race; and to place in a condition of legal inferiority a large body of American citizens, now constituting a part of the political community, called the people of the United States, for whom an by whom, through representatives, our government is administrated. Such a system is inconsistent with the guarantee given by the Constitution to each State of a republican form of government, and may be stricken down by congressional action, or by the courts in the discharge of their solemn duty to maintain the supreme law of the land, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.


Indeed, it was not until the Supreme Courts decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas and congressional civil rights acts of the 1950s and 1960s that systematic segregation under state law was ended. In the wake of those Federal actions, many states amended or rewrote their state constitutions to conform with the spirit of the 14th Amendment. But for Homer Plessy the remedies came too late.


Plessy sent the message of ‘Discrimination against Blacks is accepted’ in the southern and border states. Jim Crow signs were put over water fountains, at restaurants, door entrances and exits as well, just about ever public place you can think of. There were separate hospitals, restrooms, restaurants, schools both public and private, prisons, churches, cemeteries, and various public accommodations. For African-Americans their facilities were much less than equal for they were not well kept and in many cases, they did not exist. All this was done to end socialization of the races.


Now violation of these laws were punishable by violence both real and threatened, breaking a Jim Crow law which included trying to vote, African-Americans risked their homes, jobs and even their lives. A European-American can beat an African-American without any recourse of punishment. The Jim Crow criminal system consisted of All-White police, prosecutors, judges, and prison officials. Violence was instrumental for Jim Crow laws.


Lynchings were public and in must case sadistic, murders carried out by mobs. Most of the victims of these Lynch-Mobs were hung; some were shot, burned at the stake, castrated, drowned, beaten with clubs, or dismembered. This was a supplement to the criminal justice system and deemed necessary.


The year 1919 race riots broke out in various cities around this country. There were riots in Chicago, Knoxville, Charleston, Omaha, and at least a dozen other cities. James Weldon Johnson, the writer of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’, labeled 1919 as the ‘Red Summer’. What price for freedom – DEATH!


Let’s go back to something I sent out before to take a good look at the history of Jim Crow. By the time of the 1876 election the federal government troops had withdrawn from the southern conceded states leaving the African-Americans at the mercy of the states and their local governments. This was due to yet another compromise, ‘The Compromise of 1877’ in which an exchange for electoral votes to the Republican Party federal intervention in the states of Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida was ended.


The Democratic Party accepted Rutherford B Hayes’ election and federal aid for the rebuilding of the southern infrastructure, damaged by the war, and little to no involvement of their politics and laws. So the rights those African-Americans enjoyed from (1865 – 1877) came to a crashing halt. In a nutshell the Jim Crow era began after the election of Rutherford B Hayes. During the 1880’s both northern and southern politicians felt white solidarity was more important than civil rights for blacks. African-Americans had begun participating in politics, were voting, and political access for civil rights all started to rescind. From the years of 1876 -1900 legislation such as poll taxes, grandfather clauses, intimidation, and lynching was designed to disfranchise African-Americans.


President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration was one of the first to openly oppose civil rights and suffrage of African-Americans. Roosevelt believed that African-Americans were intellectually inferior and began to decrease the number of federal appointments and appointed federal officials who would not disrupt the accord between the north and south. Taft, a Republican, openly endorsed the idea that African-Americans should not participate in politics and continued to fuel the flames of racism of his predecessor. Wilson won two elections in 1912 and 1916 encouraged the introduction and passage of discriminatory legislation and passed a bill making interracial marriages a felony in District of Columbia. He made it a requirement to attach a photo with all federal applications to ensure non-appointments of African-Americans to government job. Wilson had made policies of segregation and did nothing to investigate lynching.


Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover all from 1921 – 1932 further alienated African-Americans from American politics and refused to endorse anything that was relating to civil rights. Coolidge condoned the Republican ideal of a ‘lily white’ party. Franklin D Roosevelt, Democrat, from (1933 – 1945) was initially the continuation of the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that the Northern Democrats would not interfere in race issues on the behalf of African-Americans to ensure the passage of the ‘New Deal’ legislation. He could not offend the Southern Democrats by challenging the white supremacist laws of Jim Crow. That was until his wife; Eleanor began to speak out on the behalf of African-Americans.


Dwight D Eisenhower strongly believed that race relations would not improve until whites wanted to accepted blacks. He did nothing to force European-Americans to treat African-Americans any differently and to no action on the behalf of African-Americans. However he did make a very important appointment of Earl Warren in 1953,to the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court which led to several victories in civil right including Brown v. Board of Ed 1954. He sent the federal troops to Little Rock and passed the Civil Rights Bill of 1957 which was watered down by the Senate but it was a start.


John F Kennedy (1961 -1963) was more open to African-American Civil Rights leaders and appointed several to government positions. He created the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity which was chaired by Lyndon B Johnson. He appointed his brother Robert F Kennedy Attorney General to prosecute those that violated the voting rights of African-Americans.


Lyndon B Johnson was the most effective in the fight to end Jim Crow as he passed the Civil Rights Act5 of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which rendered Jim Crow Laws illegal.


Something you might want to look up:

Buchanan v. Warley

Irene Morgan v. Virginia

Gebhart v. Belton

Briggs v. Elliot

Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edwards County

Spottswode Bolling v. C. Melvin Sharpe

McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Board of Regents

NAACP v. Alabama

Boynton v. Virginia

Shelly v. Kraemer

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