13.2 Segregation in the United States
Though the end of slavery was a significant landmark in the civil rights crusade, the former slaves did not manage to secure equality. Black codes were laws used in the South, in order to limit the ability of the former slaves to find work and to leave the plantations. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 conferred citizenship on the African Americans. After the Civil War was won by the North, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments became part of the Constitution. They sought to grant to the African Americans all rights enjoyed by every other American; to abolish all badges of servitude while reaffirming the citizenship of the African Americans.
However the Civil Rights Acts were so narrowly construed by the Supreme Court, that they grew ineffective. The court gave a very limited construction to the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments as protection against social discriminations. Thus no individual could be prosecuted by the federal government for discriminatory acts. The states were supposed to handle lynching and mob violence. Therefore, by the end of Reconstruction period in 1877, the African Americans realized that though the Constitution promised "equal protection", they would be denied their civil rights. They were kept away from the polls, forced to accept menial jobs and denied educational opportunities.
13.2a Jim Crow Laws
In 1875, the Congress had passed a law extending
to all citizens "the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations,
advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances
on land or water, theaters and other places of public amusement..."
However a group of decisions, called the Civil Rights Cases were
taken in 1883, which struck down this Civil Rights Act of 1875.
This new act was passed in order to maintain racial segregation.
The Jim Crow Laws, as these statutes came to be called, soon
put into effect an active segregation of people on a racial basis,
by making it a crime for whites and blacks to travel in the same
car or train, attend the same theater, or go to the same school.
Thus there were also separate restrooms and drinking fountains and
special visiting hours at museums for the African Americans. Since
it gained a legal sanction, this was referred to as de jure segregation.
13.2b Separate but Equal Doctrine
After the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and the abolition of slavery, it was unconstitutional for governments to discriminate against African Americans or any other racial or religious groups. However, in the case of Plessy versus Ferguson (1896), a Louisiana statute providing for "equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races", was sustained. Plessy, who was one-eighth African, was imprisoned for refusing to ride in a railway car reserved for Negroes. The Supreme Court ruled that the states by law could require the separation of races in public places, long as equal facilities were equally provided. Under the separate but equal principle, segregation was enforced in transportation, places of public accommodation, and education, by several states, most of which were in the South. However, the services rendered to the African Americans was hardly equal. For instance, black schools only had access to the discarded textbooks and lab equipment from white schools. In fact almost all the facilities provided to the African Americans were extremely inferior.
In the field of sports too, segregation was maintained; African Americans played in the Negro leagues since major-league baseball was segregated till 1947. This practice was further aided by the film industry, which relegated to African Americans the roles of domestics, or produced "all-Negro" films that were screened in segregated theaters. Segregation spread beyond the South, to places such as Chicago and Los Angeles.
Efforts were made to exclude the African Americans from the political avenue through the imposition of poll taxes, literacy tests, the grandfather clause, and property qualifications that restricted the African Americans' right to vote. These restrictions left a negligible number of African Americans turning up for voting.
13.1 Slavery and Civil Rights
Segregation in the United States
13.3 Breaking down Segregation
13.4 The Civil Rights Movement
13.5 Civil Rights for Minorities and Women
13.6 Affirmative Action