The Spread of Jim Crow Laws in the South 1890–1909


Map Code: Ax01951

W.E.B Dubois wrote of the post-Reconstruction South, ‘the slave went free, stood a brief moment in the sun, then moved back toward slavery’. The ‘Redeemer’ Democrats enforced their monopoly of political power with batteries of laws designed to suppress black voting. In Alabama, for instance, the black electoral roll reduced from 79,311 to 1,081 (1900–03). Legal measures (repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court against black legal challenges) were buttressed by systematic exclusion from public office: the last black Congressman from the South prior to the modern era retired in 1901. Other planks of discrimination were segregation of residence and education, and the denial of credit facilities. The entire panoply of discriminatory legislation was referred to as ‘Jim Crow laws’, named after a minstrel show character. Enforcement periodically spilled over into violence, as with the Wilmington riot (1898) sparked by Republican activists attempting to register black voters. Nor was rioting confined to the South: alleged black-on-white crimes provoked mass violence in Greenburg (1906) and Springfield (1908).

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