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Jim Crow Laws

The name Jim Crow is very old and the origin is obscure. It was made popular by a song and dance routine in 1828. A white minstrel performer, Thomas Dartmouth Rice, traveled all over the country performing the song, "Jump Jim Crow." As a result, "Jim Crow" became a pejorative term for African-Americans.

When the popularity of the performer faded, the term had lasting effects. It became associated with the segregation laws that started in 1865 and continued into the 1960s with a smattering of such laws still being passed today. This article will give a brief history of Jim Crow laws that were passed after the Civil War and the modern interpretation of those laws.

Segregation and Jim Crow Laws

The purpose of Jim Crow Laws was to separate white and black people. Restaurants, hospitals, schools, prisons, and the like were required to have separate facilities for whites and blacks. One famous example of this is the bus segregation laws. Rosa Parks who was required, as an African-American, to sit at the back of the bus. She did not, of course, and that helped lead to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

Jim Crow laws did not only apply to southern states. Nearly half of the fifty states in the U.S. had segregation laws. For example, Wyoming had laws prohibiting marriage between white persons and people from other races. In California, black people were not allowed to testify for or against white people.

Today, any laws designed to segregate any racial group of people are referred to as Jim Crow laws. They have been used to segregate Asians, American Indians, and other racial groups in American history.

Civil Rights and Jim Crow Laws

The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s helped combat Jim Crow laws. African-American civil rights heroes included: Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Barbara Johns, Charles Evers, and Charlotte Hawkins Brown. These heroes brought down laws that segregated schools, lunch counters, and bathrooms. The Civil Rights Act was passed at this time. It prohibited institutionalized discrimination and segregation. The "Whites Only" signs were ordered to come down.

Voting and Jim Crow

Requiring separate facilities for blacks and whites was bad enough, but there were other tragedies of the Jim Crow era as well, including the roadblocks that prevented African-Americans from voting. Finally, after numerous demonstrations were held by activists -- some ending in violence -- President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in 1965.

The Voting Rights Act banned literacy tests, provided for federal oversight of election laws, and authorized the Attorney General to investigate discriminatory voting practices. As a result of this Act, poll taxes were eliminated and discriminatory gerrymandering was reduced. For the first time, black voters had the means to challenge voting restrictions. Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, black voter turnout substantially increased.

Modern Forms of Jim Crow Laws

The most egregious Jim Crow segregation laws have been eliminated, but you will still hear certain laws or practices referred to as Jim Crow laws. The modern forms of Jim Crow laws include the following:

Felony Disenfranchisement

According to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Jim Crow-type laws are resulting in the incarceration of African-Americans. While blacks and whites both commit crimes, blacks are more likely to be found guilty and more likely to serve prison terms.

It is estimated that nearly 30% of the male African-American population has a felony record. Since being convicted of a felony is an automatic disenfranchisement in most states, Ms. Alexander sees this as a form of a Jim Crow law.

Racial Gerrymandering

Racial gerrymandering refers to defining voting districts to lessen or eliminate a minority's voting power. For example, a large community of black voters may be divided up into several districts where each district would have a majority of white voters. This practice leaves too few black voters in any one district to elect a preferred candidate. This was common practice in some states.

To help combat this type of discrimination, Congress amended the Voting Rights Act in 1982 to lessen the standard to find discrimination in gerrymandering. This led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Thornburg v. Gingles, where the court found that the North Carolina redistricting plan discriminated against blacks in six voting districts.

In more recent times, racial gerrymandering has once more risen its head. The 2013 Supreme Court decision of Shelby County v Holder invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required federal approval of state election laws. Since the decision, new state laws have been passed requiring voter identification and allowing gerrymandering. These new laws can still be challenged, but only after state legislatures have passed them.

Polling Place Requirements

Another form of Jim Crow laws is polling place requirements such as voter identification. Before 2008, no state required voter identification to vote. By 2015, some 34 states have passed voter identification laws. It is argued that these laws suppress the vote of socially disadvantaged individuals on the lower economic scale who may not have proper identification documents.

Concerned That You Are a Victim of Jim Crow Laws?

While most Jim Crow laws have been eliminated, that does not mean that racial discrimination has gone away. If you believe that you have been a victim of racially discriminating laws, seek legal help. A qualified civil rights attorney will be able to examine your situation and provide you with the information that you need.

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