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Who is Jim Crow?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Jim Crow is not actually a person, but the subject of a song performed by Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice. Rice was a white man who performed in blackface and, like most blackface performers, he denigrated blacks through his music, his stereotypical behavior, and his rude jokes. Most people are familiar with the name because it was given to a group of laws enacted after the American Civil War designed to keep blacks and whites separate. Some expressly forbid marriage or sexual contact between races, while others, like the famous one Rosa Parks violated, sectioned out public services as on buses where blacks had to ride in the back.

Jump Jim Crow is a lengthy song that was a bonafide hit among white Americans in the early 19th century, and the lyrics express a number of racist sentiments. The subject of the song is a slave, and he is satisfied with his lot. He is also sexually promiscuous and ignorant, and the song is usually sung in “supposed” slave dialect.

Southern conception of “separate but equal” was essentially the working out of Jim Crow laws. Such laws were made to keep blacks and whites apart, satisfying segregationists while pacifying the more liberal thinkers. They often fell short of the mark, however, because they were built on the premise that whites were superior to blacks and therefore deserved better services.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 declared most of these laws unconstitutional, although it would take many years more of persistent law enforcement to rid the Southern US of the “separate but equal” mindset. While most segregationist laws have been overturned, there are still many people in the South — and in the North for that matter — who persist in discriminating against blacks with all possible means.

Today, some groups still believe that their racism is justified. What these criticisms fail to address is the concept of informal, and off the books Jim Crow laws. For example, many people believe that African Americans don't always get equal justice before the law, and that past and current discrimination has led to higher rates of poverty and unemployment among the population.

Further, ignorance can be tied to the poor state of the school system in many congested US urban areas. Tours of schools in areas like Harlem and Washington D.C., with a majority of black students, tend to show buildings that are barely habitable, students having little access to supplies or books, and schools having extreme difficulty retaining teachers. This is not the fault of the people who live their and use these facilities, but of inadequate funding and/or leadership available to these schools.

As a result, Jim Crow sadly dances through the present until everyone is willing to share in the responsibility of becoming more tolerant and of supporting the rights of every student to a truly equal education. Further, continuing to stereotype blacks does the nation a great disservice, and it contributes to slow progress in achieving total social equality.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon280764 — On Jul 19, 2012

So much time has gone by and so little we have learned! In the beginning, the black man captured and sold his brothers and sisters from Africa. Eventually, it was all blamed on the white man.

After slavery was outlawed, people had to learn to adjust and learn a new way of life -- both races. The whites didn't want to give up that superiority complex they had going on. Some of the blacks were able to rise above it all and become outstanding Americans, highly educated (which wasn't an easy task back then), and willing to work hard to further themselves and their friends and families.

Others took on the attitude that they were owed. The government has shamelessly fueled that attitude and allowed millions to depend on it instead of allowing people to dig their heels in and find out who they are and what they are made of. There really needs to be a redo of our handout system. It keeps getting worse and definitely enslaves its recipients. How can one truly have any self-respect and make a career out of living off the government? The irony of it all is if Obama gets re-elected, he will put even more in chains.

By anon276532 — On Jun 24, 2012

Try putting on black makeup for a week then you will know how it is, or if you want the easy way go on youtube and look up black white by Ice Cube. It's about a black family and a white family who changed their colors to see how it is to be the other's race. MTV did not keep it on the air long. I think it showed how some people are still set in their ways.

By anon251911 — On Mar 03, 2012

There are several reasons why the urban public school system is ineffective but one of them isn't funding. The DC school system has more funding per student than most in the country and it is in a deplorable state. Their problem is corruption, the teachers union and discipline, but also to a considerable degree, the breakdown of the family. The lack of home and objective community support is destroying the chances for these kids.

By anon249826 — On Feb 23, 2012

There is more money thrown at the urban school system than can be imagined. Any group that does not respect education at home will inevitably watch their children fail to learn the skills to be successful in our society. It's not about race, at least not in today's environment.

By anon243483 — On Jan 28, 2012

Urban schools' failure has nothing to do with skin color - families choose to live there and send their kids to crappy schools.

Many black, hispanic, immigrant families move themselves up and out of the inner city urban blight for their children to have a better life. Well at least the ones that care to, rather than blame someone, anyone, else - preferably white.

By anon176832 — On May 16, 2011

I think that the Jim Crow laws are stupid, although i am caucasian. My teacher says that Jim Crow was a congressman, but all i found was "plays, songs, character, fiction, etc., etc." on the internet. what should i believe? --Meredith

By anon160866 — On Mar 17, 2011

I'm a freshman in high school and i live indiana but i was raised in the south so i know about the jim crow laws and i know how racist people can be. Not just whites, but blacks, mexicans... anybody can be racist but it seems that if you are not black then you have a higher advantage in the south. You get better schooling and better treatment. It's almost like they are hiding the fact that we blacks can't see what they are doing.

But on the other hand, i heard a black girl the other day say that oh, she couldn't have been black. She was answering to a comment my teacher said earlier about one of his former students. The student had did some task superbly and she thought that the student would have possibly been black.

Now when i hear people, especially black people, say that, i get a little hurt inside because why would you say basically black people can't do anything smart or successful? Well, in my opinion, if blacks can't get their heads out of the gutter, then we will always be in this poverty and low schooling problem. If we don't show what we really can do as intellectuals.

By anon157736 — On Mar 04, 2011

Capitalism has always needed a superfluous pool of unskilled labor to threaten middle class labor. Poverty produces a cheap police force to protect the status quo with legal organized violence.

Why is criminal justice so popular among blacks? They are not policing the status quo. The are paid to police and guard their own kind for the status quo. Paid boot lickers.

By Donr — On Feb 07, 2011

It is misunderstood in this "age of enlightenment" that we are in a new age of slavery. A society that not only tolerates, but encourages unemployment and poverty in order to prop up the profits of capitalism is in the preliminary stage of a return to feudalism.

By anon132035 — On Dec 05, 2010

Regarding the urban school crisis. We are still in the jim crow era. These schools routinely suffer from poor distribution of funds. Supplies are at best, outdated and serve little to nothing for core curriculum standards that suburban communities get.

Slavery and its financial gain were the only reason to keep African Americans in the south. Racism, however, found its way north and into our schools to keep African Americans a step behind. The writers of this blog need to get their heads out of the sand and deal with the realities that did exist in the south and still, in some form exist today.

There have been some changes, but we will never be considered equal to white people. Not really!

By anon122989 — On Oct 30, 2010

When people stand by doing nothing, they become as guilty as those who are looting and destroying their neighborhood.

By anon105751 — On Aug 22, 2010

@anon73907: What do you mean by "the people's fault"? It was the people's that fault that the years of police brutality had finally caught up to L.A., and it blew like a keg of gunpowder? Your comment was directed towards education. Rodney King was about police violence towards minorities, and since I was there, I hate to tell you this but the cameras forgot to show you the mass numbers of non blacks robbing and stealing from the area as well. Stop wearing your blinders and open your eyes to the real world.

By anon98164 — On Jul 22, 2010

Some black people do not seem to believe in their own intellectual abilities. They *can* rise above the poverty level and the mindset that the Democratic Party instilled in them to keep them enslaved, and thus powerless.

By anon80148 — On Apr 26, 2010

Thanks so much! I am learning about this in school and didn't really understand it! I am in eighth grade and this helped so much!

By anon73907 — On Mar 29, 2010

I disagree with the premise that the failing school systems of inner city schools is not the fault of its inhabitants!

While there are other institutions and groups that have held minorities down,and have enabled minorities to fail, such as the Democrat party, we are all responsible for our own community's success or failure.

Just like the riots that broke out after the Rodney King debacle,those people were destroying their own communities! They looted their own neighborhood businesses! The destruction was the people's own fault!

By anon18898 — On Oct 01, 2008

This article reflects nothing but the truth. Well put for the public eye. I look forward to more of your posts.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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