I knew Jim Crow. I grew up in Florida under his dark, suffocating wings. I knew him intimately, as did every black person I knew growing up in Deland and Miami in the 1940s and 50s. He hovered over every aspect of the first twenty-five years of my life, sucking ambition from me. I grew up during the last vestiges of his reign. I was so used to seeing the signs that read, “Whites seat from front-Colored seat from rear” on public buses that, when they were finally removed in the 1960s, sometimes I thought I still saw them there. Even after his death, Jim Crow was, for a while, omnipresent mentally and emotionally in our lives; such had been his reach. No black person I knew escaped the impact of the Jim Crow system or the possibility of being killed for no other reason than being black. A black person in Florida, during the time I grew up, lived with a pervasive awareness of the limitations a racist society imposed and of the impact those limitations imposed upon one’s life.The purpose of this chapter is to tell my Florida story. How did segregation and racism impact my life and that of so many other African Americans of my generation, some of whom managed not only to survive it but even to thrive under it?
For those that forgot, those that don’t know and those that try to minimize the impact that Jim Crow Laws had on African-American communities – this is a simple reminder. Jim Crow laws were a collection of state (including Florida) and local statutes that legalized racial segregation. Named after a Black minstrel show character, Jim Crow laws—which existed for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968—were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education or pursue other opportunities. Those who attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often faced arrest, fines, jail sentences, violence and death.Jim Crow laws impacted every aspect of your life or death. Where you lived, how you moved around, where you went to school, where you ate your meals and and how you interacted with the community. Medgar Evers clip (3 min): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gMvhvs1gMI Dr. Marvin Dunn has two books that will enlighten you:https://shop.booksandbooks.com/…/dr-marvin-dunn-history… https://upf.com/book.asp?id=9780813062983
The Jim Crow character evolved from a traveling minstrel show that became popular among whites in the South after the Civil War. White people, dressed in blackface and speaking in heavy black dialect, portrayed blacks in exaggerated stereotypes. Jim Crow was portrayed as a bumbling dim-wit who stayed in trouble of some sort. He was perpetually lazy, drunk, and inclined towards lasciviousness. He even sometimes outwitted whites (which folks thought was really funny if only because it was so preposterously unlikely.) The performances played to standing-room only white audiences all over the South. After Reconstruction (1877), the term Jim Crow was applied to segregationist laws passed by southern legislatures. In addition to the racist laws, there were unwritten Jim Crow rules.
Jim Crow looked like this
A Jim Crow segregated passenger coach, circa 1948. The car depicted in this rare photograph belongs to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and is leaving the Miami station on October 6, 1948. Passenger cars used by whites were much more comfortable than this. Blacks were required to ride in separate passenger coaches on railroads in the South until the 1960s. (Courtesy Miami Memorabilia Collection of Myrna and Seth Bramson)
A Jim Crow bus seating
Blacks were expected to respond deferentially to white people with “yes suh” or “yes ma’am.” If meeting a white person on the sidewalk, a black person was expected to step aside. Blacks entered a white person’s home through the back door. When riding in a car driven by a white person, the black person sat in the rear seat. A black was expected to remove his hat when addressing a white person. Whites had the privilege of skipping ahead of blacks who were waiting in line for service, such as at the post office. And blacks were never, never to look a white person directly in the eye. In fact, when being spoken to by a white person, the black was expected to look down. The psychological effect of Jim Crow upon a black person was inescapable anxiety caused by having to be aware at all times that any violation of Jim Crow rules and expectations could result in death. If the black person was not killed for a Jim Crow violation, he or she could lose his or her job or could be forced to move out of the community. The person could be whipped or subjected to any one of a number of indignities.
The colored waiting room
The Colored Waiting Room at the downtown train depot in Jacksonville early 1900’s. Notice how folks dressed up when they travelled. Today it’s flip flops and shorts. In the 1950’s I used the colored waiting room at the Greyhound bus station in Miami. Usually colored waiting rooms did not serve food. Black passengers could order food from the white waiting room, which was always much nicer, but had to take it outside to eat it. (“Make America Great Again”)
The colored water fountain
The “colored water” fountain was usually lower than the “white water” fountain so that the blacks had to bow to drink. Standing equally when drinking was insulting to whites. Notice the difference in cleanliness intended to reinforce the view that blacks are not as clean as whites…
States with Jim Crow laws requiring discrimination against blacks
Jim Crow came to refer to racist laws passed by the southern states. With the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877 and the return to power of racist southern legislatures, the tide was turned against blacks and their white Republican supporters. Southern legislatures began passing Jim Crow laws.
Homer Plessey, who was black but looked white tested race segregation on railroad cars in New Orleans in 1892. He lost his case before the United States Supreme Court.
Homer Plessey was a black man who claimed to be seventy-eight percent Caucasian. On a planned legal challenge, he boarded a whites-only rail car and was asked to move to the coach reserved for Negroes. Plessey’s refusal led to his arrest. The case wound its way to the highest court in the land where the court ruled that as long as equal accommodations were provided for blacks there was no denial of constitutional protection. Based upon this decision, public transportation, schools, colleges, parks, hospitals, drinking fountains, eating establishments, golf courses, swimming pools and beaches could be segregated as long as blacks had equal accommodations available.
Segregated trains put the “colored coach” right behind the engine where the smoke and cinders fell. The Plessey case wound its way to the highest court in the land where the court ruled that as long as equal accommodations were provided for blacks, there was no denial of constitutional protection. Based upon this decision, public transportation, schools, colleges, parks, hospitals, drinking fountains, eating establishments, golf courses, swimming pools, and beaches could be segregated as long as blacks had equal accommodations available. Of course, those public accommodations were never equal. The Plessey Decision allowed for separate seating areas for blacks and whites on buses and other forms of public transportation. Blacks were required to seat themselves from the rear of the bus while whites sat in the front. If seating for whites was filled, black passengers were expected to yield their seats to standing whites.
Thomas Dartmouth Rice was an American performer and playwright who performed blackface, used African American vernacular speech, song and dance to become one of the most popular minstrel show entertainers of his time. He is considered the “father of American minstrelsy”. His act drew on aspects of African American culture and popularized them with a national, and later international audience. Rice’s ” Jim Crow” persona was an ethnic depiction in accordance with contemporary Caucasian ideas of African Americans and their culture. The character was based on a folk trickster named Jim Crow that was long popular among black slaves. Rice also adapted and popularized a traditional slave song called “Jump Jim Crow”.