Segregation And The Civil Rights Movement EssaySegregation was an attempt by white Southerners to separate the races in everysphere of life and to achieve supremacy over blacks. Segregation was oftencalled the Jim Crow system, after a minstrel show character from the 1830s whowas an old, crippled, black slave who embodied negative stereotypes of blacks.
Segregation became common in Southern states following the end of Reconstructionin 1877. During Reconstruction, which followed the Civil War (1861-1865),Republican governments in the Southern states were run by blacks, Northerners,and some sympathetic Southerners. The Reconstruction governments had passed lawsopening up economic and political opportunities for blacks. By 1877 theDemocratic Party had gained control of government in the Southern states, andthese Southern Democrats wanted to reverse black advances made duringReconstruction. To that end, they began to pass local and state laws thatspecified certain places "For Whites Only" and others for "Colored.Order now
" Blacks hadseparate schools, transportation, restaurants, and parks, many of which werepoorly funded and inferior to those of whites. Over the next 75 years, Jim Crowsigns went up to separate the races in every possible place. The system ofsegregation also included the denial of voting rights, known as disfranchisement. Between 1890 and 1910 all Southern states passed laws imposing requirements forvoting that were used to prevent blacks from voting, in spite of the 15thAmendment to the Constitution of the United States, which had been designed toprotect black voting rights.
These requirements included: the ability to readand write, which disqualified the many blacks who had not had access toeducation; property ownership, something few blacks were able to acquire; andpaying a poll tax, which was too great a burden on most Southern blacks, whowere very poor. As a final insult, the few blacks who made it over all thesehurdles could not vote in the Democratic primaries that chose the candidatesbecause they were open only to whites in most Southern states. Because blackscould not vote, they were virtually powerless to prevent whites from segregatingall aspects of Southern life. They could do little to stop discrimination inpublic accommodations, education, economic opportunities, or housing. Theability to struggle for equality was even undermined by the prevalent Jim Crowsigns, which constantly reminded blacks of their inferior status in Southernsociety.
Segregation was an all encompassing system. Conditions for blacks inNorthern states were somewhat better, though up to 1910 only about 10 percent ofblacks lived in the North, and prior to World War II (1939-1945), very fewblacks lived in the West. Blacks were usually free to vote in the North, butthere were so few blacks that their voices were barely heard. Segregatedfacilities were not as common in the North, but blacks were usually deniedentrance to the best hotels and restaurants. Schools in New England were usuallyintegrated, but those in the Midwest generally were not. Perhaps the mostdifficult part of Northern life was the intense economic discrimination againstblacks.
They had to compete with large numbers of recent European immigrants forjob opportunities and almost always lost. Early Black Resistance to SegregationBlacks fought against discrimination whenever possible. In the late 1800s blackssued in court to stop separate seating in railroad cars, states’disfranchisement of voters, and denial of access to schools and restaurants. Oneof the cases against segregated rail travel was Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), inwhich the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that ;separate but equal;accommodations were constitutional. In fact, separate was almost never equal,but the Plessy doctrine provided constitutional protection for segregation forthe next 50 years.
To protest segregation, blacks created new nationalorganizations. The National Afro-American League was formed in 1890; the NiagaraMovement in 1905; and the National Association for the Advancement of ColoredPeople (NAACP) in 1909. In 1910 the National Urban League was created to helpblacks make the transition to urban, industrial life. The NAACP became one ofthe most important black protest organizations of the 20th century.
It reliedmainly on a legal strategy that challenged segregation and discrimination incourts to obtain equal treatment for blacks. An early leader of the NAACP wasthe historian and sociologist W. E. B.
Du Bois, who starting in 1910 madepowerful arguments in favor of protesting segregation as editor of the NAACPmagazine, The Crisis. NAACP lawyers won court victories over voterdisfranchisement in 1915 and residential segregation in 1917, but failed to havelynching .