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Reply #79: Jim Crow and legislated segregation [View All]

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Brewman_Jax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Mar-14-07 05:27 PM
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79. Jim Crow and legislated segregation
Edited on Wed Mar-14-07 05:28 PM by Lurking_Argyle
This time in US history between the end of Reconstruction and the signing of Civil Rights legislation is the known as "Jim Crow". When the few civil rights gains made during Reconstruction were wiped out by a recalcitrant South and an uncaring North. "Jim Crow" was a two-part social action that both created and reinforced the racial caste system that is US society today.

The first and early part was a minstrel show based on a song:
"Come listen all you galls and boys,
I'm going to sing a little song,
My name is Jim Crow.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb'ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow."

These words are from the song, "Jim Crow," as it appeared in sheet music written by Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice. Rice, a struggling "actor" (he did short solo skits between play scenes) at the Park Theater in New York, happened upon a Black person singing the above song -- some accounts say it was an old Black slave who walked with difficulty, others say it was a ragged Black stable boy. Whether modeled on an old man or a young boy we will never know, however, it is clear that in 1828 Rice appeared on stage as "Jim Crow" -- an exaggerated, highly stereotypical Black character.

Rice, a White man, was one of the first performers to wear blackface makeup -- his skin was darkened with burnt cork. His Jim Crow song-and-dance routine was an astounding success that took him from Louisville to Cincinnati to Pittsburg to Philadelphia and finally to New York in 1832. He then performed to great acclaim in London and Dublin. By then "Jim Crow" was a stock character in minstrel shows, along with counterparts Jim Dandy and Zip Coon. Rice's subsequent blackface characters were Sambos, Coons, and Dandies. White audiences were receptive to the portrayals of Blacks as singing, dancing, grinning fools.

Rice, and his imitators, by their stereotypical depictions of Blacks, helped to popularize the belief that Blacks were lazy, stupid, inherently less human, and unworthy of integration. During the years that Blacks were being victimized by lynch mobs, they were also victimized by the racist caricatures propagated through novels, sheet music, theatrical plays, and minstrel shows. Ironically, years later when Blacks replaced White minstrels, the Blacks also "blackened" their faces, thereby pretending to be Whites pretending to be Blacks. They, too, performed the Coon Shows which dehumanized Blacks and helped establish the desirability of racial segregation.

The second part of Jim Crow is the legalized segregation that cut the rights grant to black people under the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Under Jim Crow, black Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-Black racism. Many Christian ministers and theologians taught that Whites were the Chosen people, Blacks were cursed to be servants, and God supported racial segregation. Craniologists, eugenicists, phrenologists, and Social Darwinists, at every educational level, buttressed the belief that Blacks were innately intellectually and culturally inferior to Whites. Pro-segregation politicians gave eloquent speeches on the great danger of integration: the mongrelization of the White race. Newspaper and magazine writers routinely referred to Blacks as niggers, coons, and darkies; and worse, their articles reinforced anti-Black stereotypes. Even children's games portrayed Blacks as inferior beings (see "From Hostility to Reverence: 100 Years of African-American Imagery in Games"). All major societal institutions reflected and supported the oppression of Blacks.

The segregation laws created the social and economic pit that a lot of black Americans have to deal with today, while the Jim Crow minstrel shows helped create and perpetuate the negative stereotypes of black people that persist to the present day. Why is this an entry? To serve as reminder that the legacy of Jim Crow segregation isn't that far in the past and US society is hardly the equal society found in Star Trek's Federation. When white people still feel obligated to tell black people that they aren't so bad after all, or have to preface a comment by "no offense, but", or get nervous if they get more than 5 black neighbors, or whine about Black History Month, society hasn't come as far as people want to think.
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