Jim Crows Laws


Jim Crow laws were various state laws against the African Americans that enforced racial segregation in the southern United States.

Racial segregation included the separation of people in the provision of services like education, medical care, and transportation on the basis of race.

These laws were basically used to distinguish African Americans from the whites showing white dominance.

It also included the segregation of other ethnic minorities from majority communities. Efforts such as the Civil Rights Movement ultimately resulted in the removal and end of the Jim Crow laws.

History of Racism in the United States

In January 1865, the Third Amendment was ratified to abolish slavery in the United States. During the Reconstruction period, equal civil rights were given to the freed men, former slaves, and the minority of blacks who had been free before the war.

Prior to Jim Crow laws, African Americans were already living an inferior status as slaves. In the 1870s, democrats gained power in the Southern Legislative and used insurgent paramilitary groups and white leagues to surpass and intimidate the Blacks.

By the end of 1870, white democrats had gained power in all southern states. These white, democratic governments legalized Jim Crow laws in the majority of the states. Blacks were not given voting rights in national and state elections.

Democrats passed laws that make voting and electoral rules more restrictive hence decreasing most blacks in political participation. In Louisiana, the black voters were reduced to 5,340 although they were the majority of the state’s population. In 1910, only 730 blacks were registered.

What were Jim Crow Laws?

Jim Crow laws were a set of laws that enforced racial segregation in the South. These laws were named after an insulting song regarding African Americans.

These laws existed for nearly a hundred years, starting from the post-Civil War era until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

African Americans who violated the racist Jim Crow laws received severe punishments. Initially devised at the local levels, these laws were subsequently legalized by the state legislatures when the white supremacists regained power.

The federal government, although averse to such laws and opposed to racial segregation, was limited in its interventions due to the rulings of the Supreme Court.

These rulings at the time prevented the federal government from enforcing emancipation policies at the state level.

The Jim Crow laws were enforced until 1965. They were finally abolished through a federal Act in 1965.

Separate but Equal Doctrine

Separate but Equal was the legal doctrine in the United States Constitution which guaranteed equal protection to white and African Americans.

This doctrine did not violate the 14th amendment which guaranteed equal protection to all people.

Using this doctrine, public accommodation, education, employment, housing, and transportation would be segregated by race. This doctrine was legalized in the Piessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision in 1896.

Public education had already been segregated after the Civil War in most of the South. The facilities of African Americans were inferior as compared to the white people.

The Jim Crow laws brought about economic, social, and educational disadvantages for African Americans in every possible way.

Attempts to Break Jim Crow Laws

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 guaranteed equal rights to everyone regardless of race or color. They would be given the same treatment in public accommodations.

However, this act was not implied properly as Supreme Court ruled that Congress could not exercise control over private persons or corporations.

Congress did not pass another civil rights act until 1957. In 1887, a complaint was filed by Rev. W. H. Heard against Georgia Railroad Company for discrimination.

The company appealed for relief as it offered “separate but equal” accommodation. In 1890, Louisiana passed a law giving separate accommodations for black and white people, and the law specified that the blacks could not ride with white people.

Effects of Jim Crow Laws

Under the Jim Crow laws, the states segregated public places, public transportation, restaurants, and bars for whites and blacks. Even the United States military was segregated on the basis of race.

In 1954, the segregation of schools was declared unconstitutional by Chief Justice Earl Warren. It took many years to implement this decision. The Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Jim Crow laws were mainly implemented in the Southern states but they were also passed by other states. These laws were the major reason for the Great Migration at the start of the 20th century.

Because of the limited opportunities and rising racism, African Americans moved to the cities of Northeastern, Midwestern, and Western states. Despite the unfair Jim Crow laws, many black literary figures gained popularity. The African American athletes also faced discrimination under the Jim Crow laws.

Abolishment of Jim Crow Laws

Resistance towards the discrimination caused by the Jim Crow laws gradually gained momentum in the United States. Many attempts were made to challenge these laws in the courts and to have them overturned.

A landmark decision from the Supreme Court in 1954 declared that segregation on the basis of race in schools was unconstitutional. This was followed by the famous Montgomery bus boycott of 1955.

The growth of the Civil Rights Movement further made the laws unpopular in both the North and the South. Finally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed which largely abolished the notorious Jim Crow laws.


  • Jim Crow Laws were racial segregation laws enforced in the South following the Civil War.
  • The laws were devised and implemented during the Reconstruction Era.
  • Jim Crow laws originated in the 1860s and 1870s and continued all the way until 1965.
  • Under Jim Crow laws, facilities like education, transportation, accommodation, and other services were segregated on the basis of race.
  • Jim Crow laws were used to force African Americans to submit to an inferior quality of services compared to the whites.
  • The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s played an instrumental role in bringing an end to Jim Crow laws.
  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally overturned the Jim Crow laws.