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Thread: Jim Crow was a Product of Government

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    Jim Crow was a Product of Government

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ed...s_of_jim_crow/

    The enemies of Jim Crow
    By Jeff Jacoby
    Globe Columnist / February 15, 2009

    SOMETHING to ponder during Black History Month: In the long night that followed Reconstruction, what was the engine that drove Jim Crow? Did segregationist laws codify existing social practice, or was it the laws themselves that segregated the South?

    Many people might intuitively assume that Southern racism had led to entrenched public segregation long before Southern legislatures made it mandatory. Not so. Separate facilities for blacks and whites were not routine in the South until the early 20th century. Racism there surely was, but as C. Vann Woodward observed in "The Strange Career of Jim Crow," the idea of separating the races in places of public accommodation initially struck many white Southerners as daft. In 1898, the editor of South Carolina's oldest and most conservative newspaper, the Charleston News and Courier, responded to a proposal for segregated railroad cars with what was meant to be scathing ridicule:

    "If we must have Jim Crow cars on the railroads, there should be Jim Crow . . . passenger boats," he wrote. "Moreover, there should be Jim Crow waiting saloons at all stations, and Jim Crow eating houses . . . There should be Jim Crow sections of the jury box, and a separate Jim Crow dock and witness stand in every court - and a Jim Crow Bible for colored witnesses to kiss."

    Tragically, what the Charleston editor intended as mockery would soon become reality across the South - "down to and including the Jim Crow Bible," as Woodward noted. But it wasn't an overwhelming grassroots demand for segregation that institutionalized Jim Crow. It was government, often riding roughshod over the objection of private-sector entrepreneurs.

    Far from craving the authority to relegate blacks to the back of buses and streetcars, for example, the owners of municipal transportation systems actively resisted segregation. They did so not out of some lofty commitment to racial equality or integration, but for economic reasons: Segregation hurt their bottom line. It drove up their expenses by requiring them - as the manager of Houston's streetcar company complained to city councilors in 1904 - "to haul around a good deal of empty space that is assigned to the colored people and not available to both races." In many cities, segregation also provoked blacks to boycott streetcars, cutting sharply into the companies' profit.

    In a notable study published in the Journal of Economic History, economist Jennifer Roback showed that in one Southern city after another, private transit companies tried to scuttle segregation laws or simply ignored them.

    Thus in Jacksonville, Fla., a 1901 ordinance requiring black passengers to be segregated went unenforced until 1905, when the state Legislature mandated segregation statewide. The new statute "was passed by the Legislature much against the will of the streetcar companies," reported the Florida Times-Union. So well-known was the companies' hostility to segregation that when a group of black citizens challenged the law in court, their attorney felt compelled to deny being "in cahoots with the railroad lines in Jacksonville."

    In Alabama, the Mobile Light and Railroad Company reacted to a Jim Crow ordinance by flatly refusing to enforce it. "Whites would not obey the law and were continually . . . refusing to sit where they were told," the company's manager told a reporter in 1902. In Memphis, the transit company defiantly pleaded guilty to violating a Tennessee segregation statute, explaining that it believed the law to be "against the wishes of the majority of its patrons." In Savannah, the local black paper noted that streetcar officials "are not anxious to carry into effect the unjust laws. . . requiring separate cars for the races," since it would put them "to extra trouble and expense."

    Eventually, of course, the government got its way, as companies surrendered to pressure from lawmakers. In a victory of government regulation over the free market, Jim Crow took hold across the South, where it would cruelly hold sway for the next 60 years.

    Many Americans know that it took strong government action in the 1950s and 1960s to end Southern segregation. Far too few realize that it was government action that established segregation in the first place. Today, when the power of the state is being aggrandized as never before, the history of Jim Crow offers a cautionary reminder: When the political class overrides the private sector, what ensues can be a national disgrace.

    Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Its been a while since I studied Reconstruction, but I think this article is dancing around the central issue a bit. It really picks & chooses in order to proove something its author already believes to be true. The following may be accurate as far as it goes, but that isn't far enough.:

    Many people might intuitively assume that Southern racism had led to entrenched public segregation long before Southern legislatures made it mandatory. Not so. Separate facilities for blacks and whites were not routine in the South until the early 20th century. Racism there surely was, but as C. Vann Woodward observed in "The Strange Career of Jim Crow," the idea of separating the races in places of public accommodation initially struck many white Southerners as daft.
    I'm working from memory here, but bear with me. In the antebellum South there was no need for segregation - whites had near absolute control over the lives of blacks. Blacks did indeed live closely to whites - as servants or property - but there was no threat that they would forget their 'place'. In a world where blacks were no longer property rules slowly emerged to establish the appropriate 'place' for freed blacks & keep them there.

    Segregation began with the physical geography of towns & cities. Something equivalent to the 'townships' of apartheid Sth Africa began to spring up in the South after the Civil War. Some of this was to accommodate ex-slaves who no longer had a place to live or didn't want to be sharecroppers, some was for domestics who were no longer welcome in 'white' neighbourhoods (some did stay on, but men in particular were deemed a 'threat').

    Segregation continued in fits & starts, but it is true that it ramped up toward the end of the century. Why? First, the collapse of official Reconstruction didn't come until 1877, so officially government was standing in the way of segregation until then. Second, some of the social relationships that had existed under slavery continued (to a point), either by practice or fear (as the Klan & indivduals ran rampant). This generation of freed slaves were generally dirt poor too - they weren't going to move into your neighbourhood & many even struggled with paying for transport.

    Look at when segregation gets serious & do some generational math. By 1885 there were a young generation of blacks who had little memory of slavery. By 1895 a whole generation had reached adulthood since slavery. They began to assert what they saw as their rights & bristled under the restrictions their parents had accepted (if not willingly). Many more of them also had better jobs & more economic power. This new social circumstance led to a push from whites (many if not all) for more stringent regulations on all aspects of social intercourse. Jim Crow is born.

    Yes, it was government that enacted the laws & yes, some private businesses objected (I'm betting a lot did not too). Government did not, however, enact those laws over the impassioned opposition of large groups of white Southerners. The push for those laws came from a significant constituency within Southern society. Government was either going to support or oppose it based on the likelihood of attracting votes. if it had been unpopular it would have been voted down. That does not excuse what the government did, but I think the article is letting a lot of Southerners off the hook in order to make some businesses look good.

    Oh and as for this:

    history of Jim Crow offers a cautionary reminder: When the political class overrides the private sector, what ensues can be a national disgrace.
    If I recall correctly the single largest expropriation of private property in US history was the Emancipation proclaimation. I'm pretty sure that slave owners & sellers were 'private sector', so sometimes the political class refusing to interfere sufficiently in the private sector can result in a national disgrace too. (yes, I know government protected slavery, but it was at the behest of many more private sector operators than I'm betting complained about segregation).


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    BF,

    You're last portion is on target - the oped draws the conclusion too far.

    However, it took active government enforcement to create de facto segregation of services. On its own, the profit motive was enough to allow business owners to overcome whatever prejudice/racism they had, which is where I think the insight is.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

  4. #4
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    From my own knowledge I think that Jim Crow and de facto segregation arose as a reaction to Reconstruction. Southerners could accept the loss of slavery, but many of the lower classes of whites could not accept the elevation of blacks above them during Reconstruction.

    When US federal troops were withdrawn, the KKK disbanded, but the blacks were without protection, and there was still white resentment. Racism in the post-Reconstruction South was not the same as racism in antebellum South and Jim Crow laws were enacted ideally to "protect" blacks in the absence of federal protections.

    Without Lincoln's assassination I believe Jim Crow laws would never have come into existence, but that is an opinion that can never be substantiated.

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    Memo to Obama: Capitalism Trumps Racism | The Beacon

    A new political thriller from PBS, “Endgame,” provides the little-known, true back story of apartheid’s end in South Africa, with credit given to a for-profit mining company. Foreseeing that deteriorating conditions in South Africa would likely result in a total loss of their assets, Consolidated Goldfields initiated secret discussions between representatives of the white South African government and the exiled black African National Congress (ANC), paid for and hosted at the company’s estate in England. These talks resulted in Nelson Mandela’s being set free after nearly 30 years in prison, and the public promise by South African President F.W. de Klerk to end the government-sanctioned system of discrimination known as apartheid.

    Thus, Malcolm X had it completely wrong when he opined: “You can’t have capitalism without racism.” As our new book, Race and Liberty in America, shows:

    Capitalism punishes racial discrimination in the marketplace. Capitalism undermines racism by penalizing those who act on their “taste for discrimination.” Firms willing to recruit workers and market their goods and services without regard to color or national origin have a competitive advantage. American streetcar companies, to take but one example, fought segregated seating because it added to their cost of doing business.
    This is not to argue that there are no bigots or racists. But Jim Crow, apartheid, and other race- or gender-based laws are at root institutionalized protection from competition, enacted to penalize and make illegal voluntary activities that are taking place in the absence of such laws. In the post-Civil War South, for example, the races were intermingling, intermarrying, and doing business together as a natural course of events. It was only through enacting Jim Crow that those who did not want competition from blacks were able to prohibit, with the full force of the government behind them, these voluntary activities. In the absence of such laws, bigots themselves bear the costs of their own discriminatory behavior, and individuals seeking to maximize their profits and opportunities receive benefits from doing so without racial or other discrimination.

    Racism is thus only successfully institutionalized and sustainable through the power of the State, and its cure is to remove the ability of the State to either confer privileges or prohibit peaceful activities for any ostensible reason whatsoever.

    Of course, the end of apartheid in South Africa involved many events subsequent to the Consolidated Goldfields peace talks. As portrayed in “Endgame,” for white Afrikaners, “Our fear (of ending apartheid) stems from the knowledge that one day we will be punished for all the terrible wrongs we have inflicted.”

    The solution for that challenge—as well as forestalling white revenge against the ANC for its history of terrorist activities—was provided through Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s leading the extraordinary Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For his charming, entertaining, and incredibly moving account of the experience, watch the video of Archbishop Tutu’s address to the Independent Institute’s Gala for Liberty: here.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    The freedoms of blacks actually went back and forth after the War.

    After the war things began to get worse for blacks. The Southern legislatures, former confederates, passed laws known as the black codes, which severely limited the rights of blacks and segregated them from whites.

    So, Congress quickly responded to these laws in 1866 and seized the initiative in remaking the south. Republicans wanted to ensure that with the remaking the south, freed blacks were made viable members of society. But the strong southern legislatures finally gave in; in 1868 they repealed most of the laws that discriminated against blacks. In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, many African Americans enjoyed the rights granted in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, along with the 1875 Civil Rights Act. Blacks and Whites rode together in the same railway cars, ate in the same restaurants, used the same public facilities, but did not interact as equals.

    It was not until after Radical Reconstruction ended in 1877 that Jim Crow was born. In 1877 Democratic parties regained their power of the south and ended reconstruction. This was devastating to the blacks. After all the strides they made were reversed. From holding political offices, the right to vote, and participating as equal members of society was changed.

    The civil rights case of 1883 the Supreme Court declared that congress had no power to prevent private acts of discrimination.

    “When a man has emerged from slavery, and by the aid of beneficent legislation …. There must be some stage in the process of his elevation when takes the rank of a mere citizen or, a man, 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 models by which other men’s rights are protected.”
    - Justice Joseph Bradley

    The south gradually reinstated the racially discriminatory laws. The two main goals they wanted these laws to achieve: disenfranchisement and segregation. To take away the power that the blacks had gained, the Democratic Party began to stop Blacks from voting.

    In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional and ruled that the 14th Amendment did not prohibit individuals and private organizations from discriminating on the basis of race, hence the southern slogan “separate but equal”. This ruling was the start of legalized racial segregation. Laws were enacted that restricted all aspects of life and varied from state to state.

    And with that ruling and other cases like Plessy vs. Ferguson and Williams vs. Mississippi they could stop blacks from voting and segregation could be done. By 1914 every Southern state had passed laws that created two separate societies: one black, the other white.

    When the U.S. entered WW II the south was a fully segregated society.
    Last edited by Julie; 28 Oct 09, at 03:39.

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    I guess I am a little puzzled.

    Jeff Jacoby is just coming to this realization? This is not exactly a deep, dark secret.

    So I guess he is trying to say that because Southern governments supported racist segregation all government is bad?

    I know I am thick but to misquote Gertude Stein, There is no there there.
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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Albany Rifles View Post
    I guess I am a little puzzled.

    Jeff Jacoby is just coming to this realization? This is not exactly a deep, dark secret.

    So I guess he is trying to say that because Southern governments supported racist segregation all government is bad?

    I know I am thick but to misquote Gertude Stein, There is no there there.

    It was a trifle '4 legs good, 2 legs bad', wasn't it.


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