Segregation in the United States

Segregation in the United States, legal or social practice of separating people on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Segregation by law, or "de jure" segregation, occurred when local, state, or national laws required racial separation, or where the laws explicitly allowed segregation. De jure segregation has been prohibited in the United States since the mid-1960s. "De facto" segregation, or segregation in fact, occurs when social practice, political acts, economic circumstances, or public policy result in the separation of people by race or ethnicity even though no laws require or authorize racial separation. De facto segregation has continued even when state and federal civil rights laws have explicitly prohibited racial segregation.

Although this article concentrates on segregation

Although this article concentrates on segregation in the United States, segregation has occurred in many parts of the world. In Europe, for example, Jews were forced to live in segregated ghettos from the mid-1500s to the late 1800s. In the 1930s Germany adopted racial laws that segregated Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and other groups. However, Germany`s Third Reich went beyond segregation to the exclusion, deportation, and eventually mass murder of millions of Jews, Roma, and others. In Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, laws mandated strict separation between people of African descent and people from Europe. South Africa`s system of segregation, known as apartheid, was dismantled in the early 1990s.

De jure segregation in the United States

De jure segregation in the United States never reached the levels of German racial laws or South African apartheid. Nevertheless, segregation by law dates from the founding of the nation and was particularly widespread in the South for about 80 years, before the courts and the Congress of the United States prohibited legally sanctioned segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. At the end of the 20th century, de facto segregation remained a problem in many places in the United States. De facto segregation has resulted from residential housing patterns, economic factors, personal choice, white flight from central cities, and private, and often illegal, discrimination by home owners, real estate agents, and lending institutions. The results are often segregated neighborhoods, and consequently segregated schools, recreational facilities, and other public and private institutions.

De Jure Segregation in the United States

Although de jure segregation in the United

Although de jure segregation in the United States is most commonly associated with the South, at one time or another, segregation could be found in every section of the country. The nation`s first legal challenge to segregated schools, "Roberts" v. "City of Boston" (1849), took place in Massachusetts. A black man named Benjamin F. Roberts sued to force the city of Boston to allow his daughter Sarah to attend the nearest elementary school, and not have to travel across town to a segregated school. A young black attorney, Robert Morris, and Charles Sumner, who would later be the author of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, represented Roberts. Arguing before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Sumner discussed the psychological damage of segregation to young blacks. Roberts lost his case, but blacks in Massachusetts won a substantial victory when the state legislature prohibited segregation in the public schools in 1855. Blacks in Massachusetts, sometimes working with white abolitionists, also fought against segregation in public transportation and other facilities.

From the beginning

From the beginning, the U.S. federal government created policies that discriminated against blacks ( "see "African Americans). Before the Civil War (1861-1865), blacks were not allowed to join state militias or the U.S. Army or Navy, and the federal government refused to give passports to free blacks. In the "Dred Scott" case (1857), the Supreme Court of the United States declared that blacks could never be citizens of the United States.

At the beginning of the Civil War

At the beginning of the Civil War, the national government refused to allow blacks to fight in the U. S. Army. However, in 1862 the U.S. government allowed blacks to enlist in segregated units, led by white officers. By the end of the war, more than 200,000 blacks had served in the U.S. Army and Navy. President Abraham Lincoln had publicly called for giving the vote to black veterans; others in the Republican Party wanted to go further, and prohibit all racial discrimination in voting. After the war, the nation adopted three constitutional amendmentsthe 13th (1865), ending slavery; the 14th (1868), making blacks citizens of the United States and prohibiting state laws that denied citizens equal protection under the laws; and the 15th (1870), prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.

After the Civil War

After the Civil War, most Northern states also prohibited segregation. However, into the 1940s there were pockets of de jure segregation in a few Northern states. In Western states, Hispanics and Asians faced segregation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1906 San Francisco nearly caused a diplomatic crisis when it segregated Japanese American students in its public schools. At the time, San Francisco already segregated Chinese students. A California law, which was still in force in the 1940s, authorized the segregation in the public schools of children of Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and South or Southeast Asian ancestry.

Segregation in the South

After the Civil War

After the Civil War, de jure segregation rapidly became the rule in the South. There had been little need for segregation before the war because about 95 percent of all blacks were slaves ( "see "Slavery in the United States). However, the small free black population in the "antebellum" (prewar) South faced segregation or outright exclusion from schools, theaters, taverns, and other public places. After the war, Southern state legislatures, dominated by former Confederates, passed laws known as black codes that severely limited the rights of blacks. The codes were slightly different from state to state, but they usually contained limitations on black occupations and property owning, and vagrancy laws under which blacks could be forced to work for whites if they were considered unemployed. Mississippi, for example, prohibited blacks from renting property in towns or cities and provided severe penalties, including fines or imprisonment, for blacks who did not sign labor contracts agreeing to work for whites. These codes effectively segregated blacks into the rural areas of the state where they were virtually forced to become farm workers. Laws were also passed that segregated schools, courts, and juries. The black codes successfully prevented the newly freed slaves from improving their status in society.

In response to these laws

In response to these laws, Congress, in 1866 seized the initiative in remaking the South. Congress, especially its Republican members, wanted to ensure that the South was rebuilt with the newly freed blacks as viable members of society. During Reconstruction (1865-1877), as this period of rebuilding was called, the Republican Party controlled most governments in the Southern states. Under Reconstruction, blacks gained the right to vote throughout the former Confederate states and were elected to political office in the South. By 1868 integrated Southern legislatures had repealed most of the laws that blatantly discriminated against blacks. Meanwhile, Congress acted in a number of ways to protect the rights of the former slaves. High points of Reconstruction were the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the 14th Amendment, the 15th Amendment, and a series of enforcement acts designed to implement the new amendments. In 1875 Congress passed a new Civil Rights Act, designed to prohibit segregation in public facilities and accommodations, such as theaters, hotels, and restaurants.


However, by 1877 the Democratic Party had regained control of the Southern states, ending Reconstruction. The strides that blacks had madeholding political offices, having the right to vote, and participating as equal members of societywere reversed. With the Democrats in power, the South gradually reimposed racially discriminatory laws. These laws achieved two main goalsdisenfranchisement and segregation. In order to take away black political power gained during Reconstruction, the Democratic Party in the South began to disenfranchise blacks, or prevent them from voting. There were a variety of methods to stop blacks from voting, including poll taxes, fees which were charged at the voting booth and were too expensive for most blacks; and literacy tests, which required that voters be able to read to vote. Since it had been illegal to teach a slave how to read, most adult former slaves were illiterate. The Democrats also began to create a segregated society that separated blacks and whites in almost every sphere of life. They passed laws that created separate schools and separate public facilities.

In addition

In addition, the Supreme Court turned its back on racial equality. In "The Civil Rights Cases" (1883), the court declared that Congress had no power to prevent private acts of discrimination. Writing for the court, Justice Joseph Bradley declared: When a man has emerged from slavery, and by the aid of beneficent legislation ... there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen, or a man, are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men`s rights are protected. Rather than being the special favorites of the law, blacks were increasingly the special targets of laws that required discrimination and segregation.

The Supreme Court in "Plessy "v ".

The Supreme Court in "Plessy "v ". Ferguson" (1896) upheld the constitutionality of separate railroad cars for blacks and whites. Speaking for the court, Justice Henry Billings Brown argued that as long as the separate facilities for each race were equal, they were permitted under the Constitution. In dissent Justice John Marshall Harlan, the only Southerner on the court and a former slaveowner, argued that the Constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. Justice Harlan pointed out that segregation created a psychological sense of superiority among whites while harming blacks.

In "Williams" v. "Mississippi" (1898)

In "Williams" v. "Mississippi" (1898), the Supreme Court approved a Mississippi scheme that prevented almost all blacks in the state from either voting or serving on juries. Before 1890 about 190,000 blacks voted in Mississippi, but in the 1890s Mississippi established a system of poll taxes and literacy tests. By 1898 this system had reduced the number of black voters and potential jurors to a few thousand. The story was similar in other places; most Southern states established voting requirements that stopped blacks from voting. In 1896 there were 130,344 blacks registered to vote in Louisiana; by 1900 the new Louisiana constitution had reduced that number to 5,320. Only 3,000 black men in Alabama were registered to vote out of the more than 180,000 black men of voting age in 1900.

After 1900 Southern legislators carried

After 1900 Southern legislators carried segregation to extremes. A 1914 Louisiana statute required separate entrances at circuses for blacks and whites; a 1915 Oklahoma law segregated telephone booths; a 1920 Mississippi law made it a crime to advocate or publish arguments or suggestions in favor of social equality or of intermarriage between whites and Negroes. Arkansas provided for segregation at race tracks. Texas prohibited integrated boxing matches. Kentucky not only required separate schools, but also provided that no textbook issued to a black would ever be reissued or redistributed to a white school child or vice versa. Similarly, Florida required that school books for blacks be stored separately from those for whites. Alabama prohibited blacks and whites from playing checkers together. All Southern states prohibited interracial marriages. Segregation touched the sacred and the profane. Georgia prohibited black ministers from performing a marriage ceremony for white couples; New Orleans created segregated red light districts for white and black prostitutes.

As the United States entered World War

As the United States entered World War II (1939-1945), the South was a fully segregated society. Every school, restaurant, hotel, train car, waiting room, elevator, public bathroom, college, hospital, cemetery, swimming pool, drinking fountain, prison, and church was either for whites or blacks but never for both. In courtrooms blacks swore on one Bible and whites on another. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Southerners were born in segregated hospitals, educated in segregated schools, and buried in segregated graveyards.

Violence and Segregation

Throughout the South

Throughout the South, segregation had the support of the legal system and the police. Beyond the law, however, there was always the threat of terrorist violence against blacks who attempted to challenge or even question the established order. During Reconstruction, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the Knights of the White Camellia, and other terrorist organizations murdered thousands of blacks and some whites in order to prevent them from voting and participating in public life. The KKK was founded in the winter of 1865 to 1866 by a former Confederate general to stop both blacks and Northerners from carrying out their government and social reforms. The Klan and other white terrorist groups directed their violence against black landowners, politicians, and community leaders, as well as whites who supported the Republican Party or racial equality. During Reconstruction only the presence of the U.S. Army prevented massive killings; however, there were never enough soldiers to stop the violence. For example, in 1876 and 1877 mobs of whites, led by former Confederate generals, killed scores of blacks in South Carolina to prevent them from voting or holding office.

In 1877 the United States withdrew its

In 1877 the United States withdrew its troops from the South as Reconstruction came to an end. With the demise of Reconstruction, there was an increase in racial violence as white Southerners tried to reclaim local and state governments and reestablish white domination over blacks. One of the main forms of violence was lynching, when mobs would hang or otherwise execute blacks or others who were presumed to have committed crimes. From 1892, when reliable statistics first began to be gathered, to 1901, 1,856 blacks were lynched, mostly in the South. During World War I (1914-1918), lynching decreased slightly, but between 1900 and 1920 Southern whites lynched more than 1,000 blacks. Many were alleged criminals, but blacks were also lynched for any violation of the code of Southern race relations such as talking to a white woman, attempting to vote, or seeming to make trouble. Lynch mobs not only hanged blacks but also burned them alive, shot them, dismembered them or otherwise tortured them before killing them, or just beat them to death. Sometimes lynchings turned into wholesale riots. In 1904 a mob in Statesboro, Georgia, seized two blacks convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The mob burned the men alive, and then went on a rampage, beating and killing other blacks and destroying black-owned property. "See also "Torture.

In addition to lynching

In addition to lynching, blacks faced intimidation designed to prevent them from voting. The terrorist organization known as the Ku Klux Klan often played major roles in political campaigns by using violence and fear to prevent blacks from voting. Blacks were also the targets of politically motivated race riots, in which whites invaded black neighborhoods. Mobs in Wilmington, North Carolina (1898), and Atlanta, Georgia (1906), killed or injured scores of blacks as a warning not to vote before disfranchisement laws were passed. After the riots, blacks ceased to be politically active in these two states. Riots in the North took their toll as well. A 1908 riot in Springfield, Illinois, the home of Abraham Lincoln, particularly shocked the nation.

Segregation in the United States 1 | Segregation in the United States 2 | Segregation in the United States 3 | Segregation in the United States 4 |

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