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Seek out the origin of the term Jim Crow Laws and you will understand the root cause of injustice and cruelty in the Southern states. Jim Crow stands for the controversial rulings and decrees that were created by legal institutions in the South, between the years 1877 and 1965. This label was adapted from a song and dance routine that became popular in the 1820s. Thomas Dartmouth a white actor appeared on stage with a “blackface” after darkening his cheeks, chin, forehead, and neck area with burnt cork (Tischauser, 2012). His performance as Jim Crow depicted an elderly black slave, a person mired in poverty, illiteracy, and insecurity. Dartmouth revealed the inspiration for the said character when he encountered an elderly black slave singing slave songs. He added the last name Crow because crows are black (Tischauser, 2012). After examining the narratives of African Americans who suffered under a segregated society, one can understand the negative consequences of the Jim Crow laws.
For this study, the narratives describing the lifestyle of people in the segregated South were lifted from two interviews. Irene Monroe, a long-time resident of Alabama since the 1940s provided the first interview. David Matthews, a son of a sharecropper and a long-time resident of Mississippi was the resource person for the second interview. Monroe and Matthews were able to provide legitimate eyewitness testimony of the impact of the Jim Crow laws because they were young adults at the time when the strict implementation of the segregation laws was at its peak.
Commonalities between the Two Narratives
Monroe and Matthews described a world wherein African Americans were treated as second-class citizens. Monroe recalled a time when parents hid their children from government officials. She knew of a family with seven children, but when school officials came to visit, the mother pretended that she only had two children. Monroe discovered later that parents were suspicious of government officials. They thought that the government had the power to force their children to join the army. In the South, the human rights of the ruling elite were protected by the Bill of Rights. No one had the power to deny white people of life and liberty without due process. However, the black mother’s palpable fear cannot deny the reality that black folks were in danger of losing their right to life and liberty if white politicians wanted to exploit them.
Black people in Alabama and Mississippi did not share the same rights and privileges as white people. Matthews and Monroe spoke about facilities and buildings that were off-limits to those with dark skin. Monroe remembered the time when a famous black musician was unable to sleep in one of the hotels in downtown Alabama because colored people were not allowed to avail of the said accommodation. This assertion that blacks were treated as second class citizens is supported by historical facts. In fact, Jim Crow laws denied them the right to vote (Brown & Stentiford, 2008).
Both narratives shared common ground when it comes to social injustices committed against colored folks. Monroe and Matthews shared stories about the hurdles that they had to overcome in order to enjoy quality education. Matthews recalled the time when black children had only access to four months of a basic education each year, while their white counterparts enjoyed nine months of quality learning every year. Monroe also described bleak learning conditions in schools for black children. As a result, colored people gave up hope to enter a world of learning that was inaccessible to black Southerners (Berrey, 2015).
Differences between the Two Narratives
David Matthews described a black and white world separated by a distinct color line. Black people were not permitted to cross the said line. In Matthews’s narrative, there was no gray area (Duke University Digital Collections, 1995). Matthews described the white people’s treatment of colored people in terms of the lack of respect and dignity. However, the situation was not as bleak in the narrative of Irene Monroe.
Monroe described events wherein black people were able to share a dining area with white folks (Duke University Digital Collections, 1994). Monroe said that in the business establishments that she managed, blacks and whites were able to co-exist peacefully. Black people were able to buy the same burger and meat products that white people were able to enjoy. Without a doubt, there were restaurants and hotels that black people were not permitted to enter and use. However, there were areas when colored people can intermingle with white people. Monroe also described events wherein a white woman was trying to improve the school system that was created for black children.
Jim Crow laws had a devastating effect on the lives of black people. Social injustice and lack of access to quality education were just some of the consequences of the statutes and ordinances that segregated black and whites. Eyewitness accounts corroborated the conclusions made by historians and writers that published their observations and discoveries after the end of the Civil Rights Movement (Busbee, 2015). However, it is also important to point out that Jim Crow laws did not succeed in preventing white people from demonstrating acts of kindness. In many areas there was a clear dividing line, however, there were some instances wherein tolerance and respect characterized the reaction of some white folks when they interacted with the members of the black community.
Berrey, S. (2015). The Jim Crow routine. North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press.
Brown, N., & Stentiford, B. (2008). The Jim Crow encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Busbee, W. (2015). Mississippi: A history. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.
Duke University Digital Collections. (1995). David Matthews interview transcript. Web.
Duke University Digital Collections. (1994). Irene Monroe interview transcript. Web.
Tischauser, V. (2012). Jim Crow laws. CA: ABC-CLIO.