The Birth of Segregation: Separate but Equal

An African American man standing under a sign that says “Colored Waiting Room” in North Carolina. The photo is dated 1940.
An girl reading a book in a classroom in a photo from 1921.

As explained in the previous chapter, despite black and white people being nominally equal in the latter half of the 19th century, racial integration had not been achieved. Instead, in the southern United States, developments were moving towards more racial separation.

To achieve more racial separation — by consolidating an already existing racial divide — in the late 1800s, state legislatures in the southern United States began to pass laws mandating white and so-called colored people to be separated. Separation, according to the new laws, included marriage, education, public transportation, entrances to buildings and even drinking fountains, with the stated purpose of division being to safeguard and advance both black and white people’s cultures. As a result, there generally existed parallel public facilities to accommodate for the respective races, and as long as these facilities were equal to both races, the United States Supreme Court ruled that forced separation was legal.

Jim Crow

The segregation laws remained in place until the mid-20th century, and while they served to prevent black and white cultures from being modified by mixing, they became knowns as the Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow was a pejorative name for the then accepted terms colored and negro, and the expression Jim Crow laws thereby hinted at an often understood motive for having segregation laws, which was to keep the so-called negro subservient. The same implicit objective was also manifested in practical policy, where facilities such as schools and medical services intended for the colored population were sometimes deprioritized, and in fact not equal to the corresponding facilities used by white people.