Monday, January 18, 2016

In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Today: 100 Examples from Jim Crow Days

IF YOU AREN’T OLD ENOUGH to remember what it was like before Martin Luther King, Jr. went to work, the list below might open your eyes. It might also cause a few tears.

Slavery ended in 1865, but countless legal barriers were put in place to keep African-Americans down. (Immediately, for example, most Southern states passed laws denying the right of former slaves to own guns.)

Eventually, an entire system of “Jim Crow” laws took shape. Named for a black character in a popular play (always performed by a white actor in blackface), the laws had one purpose. 

To separate whites and blacks.

1. In 1887 the State of Florida ordered blacks and whites segregated on railroad cars. Many states followed, though most made one exception: when a black nursemaid was caring for a white child.

2. Jackson, Mississippi instituted “Jim Crow” rules for city cemeteries in 1890.

3. Alabama and Georgia had separate homes for the deaf, blind, and mentally ill.

4. The races were divided on chain gangs and in prisons.

5. By 1905 Georgia had separate parks.

6. Louisiana decided it would be best if audiences at circus shows did not mix.

7. After 1915 Oklahoma required “separate phone booths for white and colored patrons.”

8. South Carolina factory workers were paid at different windows, used different stairways and could not use the same “drinking water buckets, cups, dippers or glasses.”

9. Birmingham, Alabama made it “unlawful for a Negro and a white person to play together” at dominoes.

10. Interracial checker playing was also forbidden.

11. In Southern courtrooms there were two Bibles, one for blacks to touch, the other for whites.

12. The black man went to court to stand up for his rights. Then he had to sit in back on a bench marked “Colored Only.”

13-14. Sheriffs (elected) and members of juries (chosen from lists of voters) were almost always white.

15. Black judges were unknown. 

16. Theaters in Akron, Ohio required “darkies” to sit in the balcony. (Sadly, this involves the grandfather of the writer of this blog, the owner of that theater.)

17. Dance halls denied entrance.

18. Hotels would not register African-Americans.

19. Country clubs, including here in Cincinnati, would not accept them as members.

20. The Illinois legislature attempted to pass laws against interracial marriage in 1913. (The last of these laws was not overturned by the U. S. Supreme Court until 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.)

21. Chicago set up beaches for “Whites Only.” When a black boy crossed the line in 1919 he was attacked with rocks and drowned.

Make this #22.

23. Mobile, Alabama had a 10 p.m. curfew in place in 1909 for blacks only.

24. The 1911 the Encyclopedia Britannica added this to any debate about race: “The mental condition of the negro [adult] is very similar to that of a child.”

25. After 1926 Atlanta forbid Negro barbers to cut white women’s hair.

26. Thirteen years later the city would not allow Hattie McDaniel, who starred in the movie “Gone with the Wind,” to attend opening night.

27. By 1940 Atlanta ordinances stated: “There shall be white drivers for carrying white passengers [in taxis] and colored drivers for carrying colored passengers.”

28. Elevators were segregated. 

29. In Washington, D.C. a black workman helping lay the foundation for the Justice Department Building in 1935 found it necessary to walk two miles to find a restaurant that would serve a glass of water.

30. In the same city the Corcoran Art Gallery admitted a student after viewing samples of her work. When officials got a view of the artist and discovered she was not white the decision was reversed.

31. As late as 1948 the National Press Club refused to serve a black man who attended lunch with a white friend.

32. For many years, blacks could not visit Mt. Vernon to see the home of George Washington.

33. In shoe stores they might try on a pair of shoes. Then they must buy them.

34. Oklahoma decided the races should have different boating and fishing areas.

35. Arkansas separated them at race tracks.

36. Virginia created separate waiting rooms at airports.

37. Blood banks kept Negro blood separated.

38. Public libraries in the South denied blacks the right to check out books. One African-American protester was arrested for trying to check out a book about Robert E. Lee.

39. Southern gas stations in the 1960's had three bathrooms. One was for “WHITE MEN,” one for “WHITE WOMEN.” A third was marked “COLORED.”

40. In Montgomery, Alabama blacks had to sit in the back of the bus. If the “Whites Only” section filled the driver (only whites were hired) could order black passengers to give up their seats.

41. If the “Colored” section filled and seats in the “White” section were empty African-Americans must stand.

42. Buses had two doors. Blacks entered in front to pay. Then they got off and went to the rear to board. Drivers sometimes thought it was funny to drive away.

43. Lynching (this one ought to count for several thousand). Between 1882 and 1955, more than 3,400 African-Americans were executed without trial, many for such crimes as whistling at white women and, worse: trying to vote.
44. In almost every state school boards spent less on Negro schools, offered Negro teachers lower pay, provided worse equipment and fewer repairs.

45. In Northern cities attendance lines were drawn so black neighborhoods were assigned to “black schools,” white neighborhoods to “white schools.”

46. North Carolina and Florida ordered textbooks used by black and white kids to be stacked separately at the end of each year. 

47. In Northern states black and white kids found themselves in the same buildings, but not always treated the same. One witness remembered a teacher who announced to class that a dance would be held the following day. An excited little black girl appeared next morning in her best dress, with price of admission in hand. She offered money to the teacher. With a look of surprise, the white woman replied, “Why, Rosa, I didn’t mean you.” The little girl did not attend.

48. In the 1950s, courts began ordering segregated schools and universities to open their doors. When the University of Oklahoma lost a fight to block the admission of  G. W. McLaurin officials thought fast. Instead of accepting the situation they admitted McLaurin but continued segregating him in the lunchroom, classroom and library. “RESERVED FOR COLORED” signs helped him understand which seats were for him.

49. In Mansfield, Texas three African-Americans enrolled in the high school in 1956. An angry mob broke in, carrying signs: $2 A DOZEN FOR NIGGER EARS. 

50. Thousands of U. S. soldiers were called out to protect nine black teens who wished to attend Little Rock High School in Arkansas in 1957. (The commander of the troops was a racist, himself, but had to follow orders.)

51. The governor of Arkansas closed state schools rather that allow “race-mixing.” They did not reopen during the entire 1958-59 school year.

Added to the list today: Freedom riders, John Lewis and James Zwerc, shown in 1961, after they were beaten by a white mob in Montgomery, Alabama.
Lewis was knocked unconscious and Zwerc lost several teeth.

52. When Charlayne Hunter crossed the “color line” at the University of Georgia she was spat upon. The window in her dorm room was shattered by a brick before she could unpack.

53. James Meredith, first to attend the University of Mississippi in 1962, was protected by hundreds of U. S. Marshals. Campus riots exploded, ending only after two men were killed and scores injured.

54. Vowing to support, “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” Governor George Wallace tried to block the admission of black students to the University of Alabama in 1963. He literally stood in the doorway of the enrollment office.

55. In 1968 Wallace ran for president as a third party candidate and received 9.9 million votes (13% of the total). He won the electoral votes of five states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.

56. Violence swept Boston, Massachusetts in 1974 after the city ordered busing to integrate schools.

57. In 1914 six Texas towns, five in Oklahoma, and two in Alabama refused to let blacks live within their bounds.

58. Baltimore, Maryland and Indianapolis, Indiana required blacks to live on certain blocks.

59. Levittown, New York, one of the first “suburbs” built, refused to offer homes to Negroes.

60. In California, homeowners signed “racial covenants” agreeing not to sell houses to African- Americans.

#61. Arresting dangerous protesters, as the six-year-old (see above).

62. Texas forbade interracial boxing and wrestling.

63. When Jim Brown entered Syracuse University on a football scholarship he had to live in a different dorm than other players.

64. Two years later, a young tennis player named Arthur Ashe attempted to step onto a court in Richmond, Virginia. City officials turned him back and cut down the nets to insure he would not return.

#65. K. K. K.

66. By 1961 black men like Henry Aaron were having an impact in major league baseball. A Bradenton, Florida restaurant (where Aaron’s team held spring training) refused to serve him unless he sat behind a special partition.

67. The Washington Redskins of the NFL were the last pro football team to integrate in 1962.

68. The University of Kentucky refused to recruit a single African-American to play basketball till 1970. Tom Payne was the only black ever to suit up for an Adolph Rupp team.
69. Even those willing to spill red blood for their country found color mattered. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, the 10th U.S. Cavalry (all black, except for officers) was loading from docks in Tampa, Florida, headed to Cuba to fight. Restaurants in town refused to serve food to the troops, even though their flag was red, white and blue.

70. The United States Navy had no black officers in 1940. Negro sailors served only as “mess stewards,” cleaning up trays, washing dishes, and working the kitchen. Dorie Miller was a hero at Pearl Harbor when he put down his mop and manned a machine gun to blaze away at attacking Japanese planes.

71. Over a million African-Americans fought against Germany and Japan. Not one was awarded the Medal of Honor. Lieutenant Vernon Baker was nominated after leading troops up a mountain under heavy fire, losing 18 of his 25 men. Baker killed seven Germans and helped destroy enemy defenses. It was January 1997 before the U.S. government would admit it was wrong. Half a century later, Baker received the Medal of Honor.

72. No African American served with the Marines until 1942.

73. It was not until 1948 that the United States military integrated all units.

74. Long after slavery ended blacks were held back in the area of employment. Some companies flatly refused to hire them.

75. Until the 1960s, most craft unions refused to admit African-Americans. On construction sights the only black workers were “laborers.” These were the men digging ditches, carrying heavy material, doing jobs that required little thought. It was menial work, the kind of job whites believed blacks were meant to perform. In 1950 the average black worker made .52 cents for every dollar a white worker earned.

76. As late as 2011 average household income for black families was 59.1% of the average for whites.

77. Early movies and television refused to cast blacks in starring roles.

78. Advertisers avoided using them in commercials. (I once saw an older white woman jump out of her chair and click off a TV when she noticed a dark-skinned woman in a commercial for laundry soap.)

79. The FBI would not hire agents who were non-white. Blacks could serve only as FBI chauffeurs.

80. Airlines employed black baggage handlers. Pilots were white.

81. Law schools and medical schools denied admission.

82. Public schools often refused to let blacks teach white kids. Loveland, Ohio hired its first black educator (to work with white kids) in 1975. A school board member promptly labeled the teacher a “nigger.” 

83. No large American city elected a black mayor until 1967. 

84. No state elected a black governor till 1990.

85. Only two African-Americans have served on the U. S. Supreme Court.
86. Until 2008 there had never been a black president.

87. The best method for denying the ballot was a series of literacy tests. Negroes who wished to vote were required to read and explain the state constitution before registering.

88. To insure white voters weren’t denied the vote states added a “grandfather clause.” This allowed a person to vote if he couldn’t read, so long as he could show proof his grandfather voted. This was impossible for blacks whose ancestors had been slaves.

89. An additional hurdle was put in place when Southern states began charging a poll tax to vote. Many poor Negroes could not afford to pay.

90. Tricks, pressure and outright violence kept African-Americans out of voting booths for almost a century. Did the voter have his receipt showing he had paid the poll tax? If not, no ballot would be given. Was there a spelling mistake on his registration form? Then the vote was denied.

92. A black man showed up to vote. His white boss heard. The “boy” was fired.

93. If the “colored fellow” was stubborn, and insisted on voting, the Ku Klux Klan might visit him in the night.

94. In 1900, Ben Tillman admitted on the floor of the U. S. Senate: “We took the government away. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them [the African-Americans]. We are not ashamed of it…We called a constitutional convention, and we eliminated, as I said, all of the colored people whom we could under the 14th and 15th amendments.”

#95. Turning dogs loose on peaceful protesters.

96. In 1896 Louisiana had 130,324 registered black voters. By 1904, after new laws were enacted, 1,342 remained.

97. Alabama had 181,471 Negroes of voting age in 1900. Only 3,000 were registered.

98. Carroll County, Mississippi had a black population of 8,836 in 1959. Total registered Negro voters: 0.

99. Terrill County, Georgia, in 1960, kept all but 48 African-Americans away from the polls, out of a voting-age population of 5,000.

100. Louisiana listed anyone with as much as 1/16th African-American blood as African- American on voting rolls.

If you don't think the vote matters, you don't know.

That should do it for today. And thank you, Dr. King, and so many others, who fought to bring greater justice today.

If you teach and are interested in other materials, written for middle school students, visit my page: Middle School History and Tips for Teachers.

I have a version of this post for sale, written for students at an easier reading level. My students were always interested in the incredible variety of Jim Crow laws and racial restrictions.


  1. How many of these are due to the Democratic party?

    1. Quite a few, actually; of course, starting in the 60s, most of the racist elements shifted over to the GOP. And now the GOP does all in its power to shut out voters from minority groups. I guess they'd like to start a new list, albeit more subtle in its effects.

  2. If anyone would like to comment and cannot send me an email and I will post what you have to say. I have no idea why the comments section of my blog no longer seems to work, except for me.

  3. Do you have a lesson plan on the Jim Crow laws?

    1. One idea was to ask students to draw a cartoon illustrating how Jim Crow really worked. I loved the work turned in by the kids--including a maze one young lady drew. At every turn there seemed to be a door marked with some barrier that an African-American could not pass; and there was, in the end, no way out. It also worked to ask students to complete the reading and pick out five or ten of the laws they thought were worst and explain why they chose those examples. In my class, I always used the example of the separate homes for the blind. I would walk around the room with my eyes closed, pretending to touch students on the head, saying something like, "Are you black or white? because I'm prejudiced, and I can't tell what color you are." You could make prejudice sound absurd, I thought, and I hoped that concept sank in with every young person in my class.

  4. I remember running into this in the late 50's when our family took a road trip to Florida from Missouri. I couldn't understand it then and it still puzzles me how people can be so hateful even now.

  5. I'm a white woman and I live in Georgia. When I hear people sate that blacks have had the same opportunities as whites I want to throw up on them.

  6. Who was the teacher in Loveland hired in 1975? Was it Mr Battle? I attended Loveland schools fro 1st through 12th.

    1. That is correct. One of my favorite educators and born the same year as me. I used to say to students, if his family had traveled down south, they'd have run into all kinds of problems, where mine would not have.

  7. Not sure about all the others, just glancing through, but number 95 caught my eye. I am not sure how accurate Revisionist History is but would like to trust Gladwell as reputable. He did a podcast on that image/story . Not to dismiss mistreatment of African Americans, as I am certain there are many instances of dogs let loose on crowds, but also would want for the truth about circumstances known. The moment in the photo and later statue is specifically referenced around 14:30 to 15 in.

    1. I'm old enough to remember seeing many pictures like this in Life magazine and other publications. In a similar picture an African American protester's pant leg is torn from hip to cuff. I'm not familiar with Gladwell's work, myself.