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Segration And Civil Rights

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Segregation and The Civil Rights Movement

Segregation was an attempt by white Southerners to separate the races in every

sphere of life and to achieve supremacy over blacks. Segregation was often

called the Jim Crow system, after a minstrel show character from the 1830s who

was an old, crippled, black slave who embodied negative stereotypes of blacks.

Segregation became common in Southern states following the end of Reconstruction

in 1877. During Reconstruction, which followed the Civil War (1861-1865),

Republican governments in the Southern states were run by blacks, Northerners,

and some sympathetic Southerners. The Reconstruction governments had passed laws

opening up economic and political opportunities for blacks. By 1877 the

Democratic Party had gained control of government in the Southern states, and

these Southern Democrats wanted to reverse black advances made during

Reconstruction. To that end, they began to pass local and state laws that

specified certain places "For Whites Only" and others for "Colored." Blacks had

separate schools, transportation, restaurants, and parks, many of which were

poorly funded and inferior to those of whites. Over the next 75 years, Jim Crow

signs went up to separate the races in every possible place. The system of

segregation also included the denial of voting rights, known as disfranchisement.

Between 1890 and 1910 all Southern states passed laws imposing requirements for

voting that were used to prevent blacks from voting, in spite of the 15th

Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which had been designed to

protect black voting rights. These requirements included: the ability to read

and write, which disqualified the many blacks who had not had access to

education; property ownership, something few blacks were able to acquire; and

paying a poll tax, which was too great a burden on most Southern blacks, who

were very poor. As a final insult, the few blacks who made it over all these

hurdles could not vote in the Democratic primaries that chose the candidates

because they were open only to whites in most Southern states. Because blacks

could not vote, they were virtually powerless to prevent whites from segregating

all aspects of Southern life. They could do little to stop discrimination in

public accommodations, education, economic opportunities, or housing. The

ability to struggle for equality was even undermined by the prevalent Jim Crow

signs, which constantly reminded blacks of their inferior status in Southern

society. Segregation was an all encompassing system. Conditions for blacks in

Northern states were somewhat better, though up to 1910 only about 10 percent of

blacks lived in the North, and prior to World War II (1939-1945), very few

blacks lived in the West. Blacks were usually free to vote in the North, but

there were so few blacks that their voices were barely heard. Segregated

facilities were not as common in the North, but blacks were usually denied

entrance to the best hotels and restaurants. Schools in New England were usually

integrated, but those in the Midwest generally were not. Perhaps the most

difficult part of Northern life was the intense economic discrimination against

blacks. They had to compete with large numbers of recent European immigrants for

job opportunities and almost always lost.

Early Black Resistance to Segregation

Blacks fought against discrimination whenever possible. In the late 1800s blacks

sued in court to stop separate seating in railroad cars, states'

disfranchisement of voters, and denial of access to schools and restaurants. One

of the cases against segregated rail travel was Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), in

which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that "separate but equal"

accommodations were constitutional. In fact, separate was almost never equal,

but the Plessy doctrine provided constitutional protection for segregation for

the next 50 years. To protest segregation, blacks created new national

organizations. The National Afro-American League was formed in 1890; the Niagara

Movement in 1905; and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored

People (NAACP) in 1909. In 1910 the National Urban League was created to help

blacks make the transition to urban, industrial life. The NAACP became one of

the most important black protest organizations of the 20th century. It relied

mainly on a legal strategy that challenged segregation and discrimination in

courts to obtain equal treatment for blacks. An early leader of the NAACP was

the historian and sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois, who starting in 1910 made

powerful arguments in favor of protesting

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