The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow

Modified: 18th May 2020
Wordcount: 2200 words

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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow 

By the End of the 19th century, African American progress towards an improved situation within the United States had halted and had begun to regress. Post reconstruction violence and southern economic shifts led to many African Americans to become trapped in a culture of poverty. African Americans in the rural south were left without land and were forced to work as laborers on white-owned farms in order to make a living. In order to reassert white supremacy, Jim Crow Laws and Black Codes were introduced. Under the threat of arrest, African Americans were forced to sign labor contracts. Gang violence and lynching maintained the white supremacy status quo through fear. This created a dependency relationship in which white landowners relied on cheap labor and African Americans were forced to work the land. The 14th and 15th Amendments granted African Americans the right to vote, equality before the law and other rights of citizenship but were ultimately unable to be guaranteed to African Americans living in the south.

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By the early 1870s sharecropping had begun to dominate agriculture across the south. Under this system, families would rent small plots of land to work themselves; in return, they would give a portion of their crop to the landowner at the end of the year. Due to heavy reliance on the landowner and borrowing for tools and supplies, many sharecroppers began to owe more than they were not able to repay. This created a loop of constant debt and dependency on the landowner in what could be considered a superficial freedom for African Americans.

Poor education opportunities in the south didn’t improve the plight of African Americans seeking a way out of sharecropping and laboring. This eventually led to the construction of the Tuskegee Institute in 1881 by Booker T. Washington under a charter from the Alabama legislature. The Institute trained teachers in Alabama and provided students with academic and vocational training. It is one of the first examples of public education for African Americans in the south. By comparison, northern cities contained more numerous education opportunities for African Americans; however, this was a considerable first step towards improving African American prospects in the south.

  Another way for African Americans to escape the suffering of the Jim Crow south was through migration towards the north and west. Benjamin “Pap” Singleton was one of the first to encourage migration away from the south. Between 1877 and 1879 nearly 300 African Americans followed him to Kansas. In total, about 50,000 people fled southern oppression in what was called the Great Exodus.  He can be considered one of the first to promote African American migration from the south as his efforts are a precursor to the Great Migration of the early 20th century.

By the beginning of the 20th century and the start of World War 1 in 1914 industrialized urban areas in the north and west faced labor shortages due to lessening European migration. By 1919 about 1 million African Americans had left the south in search of improved wages and conditions away from the suppressive south. Many found jobs in factories and foundries where working conditions were strenuous and even dangerous; much in the same way southern sharecropping was. However, segregation was not legalized (like it was in the south) in the North, but racism and prejudice were nonetheless widespread. Urban laborers benefitted from a lack of a dependency relationship that southern African Americans suffered from. Some, such as Isaiah T. Montgomery even became successful capitalists, business owners, and politicians; in the process setting an example for others to follow.

Poor education opportunities in the south didn’t improve the plight of African Americans seeking a way out of sharecropping and laboring. This eventually led to the construction of the Tuskegee Institute in 1881 by Booker T. Washington under a charter from the Alabama legislature. The Institute trained teachers in Alabama and provided students with academic and vocational training. It is one of the first examples of public education for African Americans in the south. By comparison, northern cities contained more numerous education opportunities for African Americans; however, this was a considerable first step towards improving African American prospects in the south.

Washington believed that the best way for freed slaves and other African Americans to attain equality in the United States was to focus on agricultural and mechanical trades that were available and often required less knowledge. However, DuBois had a very different view. He believed African Americans needed to look beyond vocational training and pursue the arts and sciences instead. Black colleges and universities responded by trying to create programs that reflected both the practical necessities that Washington encouraged as well as DuBois’ support for a more academic curriculum. This balancing act was exemplified in the life and actions Charlotte Hawkins Brown. In 1902 she opened the Palmer Memorial Institute with the goal of teaching both traditional academics and vocational skills as she considered both important to improving the education plight of African Americans.

During the late 19th century the lack of funding for African American education affected the quality of the education provided. Classrooms were often overcrowded and with teachers in short supply students often didn’t receive the proper attention as teachers oversaw a large range of grades and ages. To combat this at the Palmer Institute Brown wrote letters to potential supporters. She often had to pretend that the school focused on vocational skills to receive funding. However, her students learned French, Latin, and other academic subjects much to their pleasure. Vocational skills were more practical for finding work and earning a living, while traditional academics promoted the intellectual growth of students and encouraged them to be leaders.

A growing fear of African American influence and rising social status within the United States led to the implementation of laws to suppress the growing middle class. Jim Crow Laws as they were known, were introduced after the end of reconstruction in 1877 to solidify the social norms that African Americans were inferior to white Americans. In theory, it was to create “separate but equal” treatment, but in practice, Jim Crow Laws condemned black citizens to inferior treatment and facilities. Ida B. Wells experiences this firsthand in 1884 when riding aboard a train. Wells is forcibly removed from the train after refusing to move to the “colored car”. She sued and won her case in a lower court, but the decision was reversed in an appeals court.

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 By the 1890’s African Americans began to experience increasingly strong resistance to participation in politics and the economy. Disenfranchisement and Jim Crow Laws during this time formally segregated white Americans and African Americans by law. In this same period, a campaign of lynching began, targeting African American men especially. The three main ways of carrying out this political violence were through poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses. Due to these efforts, voting by African Americans had almost completely halted by 1900.

 At the end of the Reconstruction in 1877, federal protection towards African Americans had disappeared. Power now rested with the same forces that had held African Americans in slavery prior to the Civil War. Post-Reconstruction African Americans were subjected to disenfranchisement, organized violence, and limited economic opportunities. As a result, many African Americans felt that their best chances for success lay in separating themselves from the poor conditions of the post-Reconstruction South. Leaders such as Isaiah Montgomery and Benjamin “Pap” Singleton offered people the chance to create their own communities. Isaiah Montgomery founded the African American community of Mound Bayou in Mississippi while Benjamin “Pap” Singleton encouraged thousands of African Americans to emigrate to Kansas. Frederick Douglass urged Southern African Americans to fight for their political and civil rights rather than isolate themselves from the current problems facing African Americans. These communities gave people the opportunity to build lives for their families free from violence and Jim Crow segregation. For the most part intervention into African American efforts towards migration and creating communities was undisturbed, however, Singleton experienced objection from Kansans during the Great Exodus. In 1880 singleton testified before the Senate to great success. This lack of concern from white Americans can be attributed to the voluntary separation of the communities much in the same Jim Crow Laws were enacted to enforce.

Lynching in the United States rose in number after the American Civil War and was used to enforce white supremacy and intimidate African Americans by racial terrorism. Increasing racial tension during the 1890s led to a peak of reported lynchings of African Americans in 1892. lynchings were often mob actions attended by hundreds of people and even more people watching. Lynching differs from murder in that they are conducted by a mass of people and are not an action premeditated by an individual.

In the struggle to end this practice, lynching was documented in a variety of ways. Organizations such as the NAACP collected statistical information on lynchings. Journalists such as Ida B. Well, The Chicago Tribune, and magazines published by the NAACP provided information about specific episodes of lynching. These reports often included eyewitness accounts and reporting from the local press. Finally, the African American press often published photographs of hangings because they were easier to photograph than other forms of “lynchings” such as burning victims or being shot repeatedly.

The lynching of Sam Wilkes occurred on April 12, 1899, when over 500 people removed him from a train after being apprehended due to his involvement in the death of his employer. The newspaper reported that body parts were being cut from his body after the lynching to be kept as souvenirs by people in the mob. Ida B. Wells hired detective Louis P. Le Vin to investigate the lynching and on June 20, 1899 the report was published. According to reports from Newman County residents, Samuel Hose killed Alfred Cranford in self-defense after Cranford became enraged and drew his gun to shoot him. This was the result of a dispute over Hose’ wages and was tied to an argument that had occurred earlier regarding extra pay for Hose to visit his mother. The detective goes on to report that Hose didn’t see Mrs. Cranford for several days because Hose had fled the scene into the woods. When Mrs. Cranford discovered her husband dead, she never reported an assault by Hose. The detective asserts that the lynching of Hose was a premeditated murder and Hose’ death was to be an example for others. E. D. Sharkey, Superintendent Atlanta Bagging Mills both advocated heavily for the lynching according to Le Vin. however, W. A. Hemphill, President and business manager, and Clark Howell, editor of the Atlanta Constitution are cited as being the main contributors to the burning of Hose. They offered a reward of $500 for Hose’ capture.

Le Vin’s accounts of the lynching of Rev. Strickland and the shooting of the five African American men in Palmetto read like a story as compared to the lynching of Hose excerpt that is more representative of investigative journalism. Lynching was often used to “set an example” and this often resulted in the death of an individual not based on what they did or who they were. The intended target of lynching was not always lynched and in many cases the person being lynched happens to be the most accessible option at the time. Mob fervor also contributes to mistaking the identity of the target. Victims suspected of concealing information were often tortured for a confession. From 1882 to 1968, nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, with three passing the House. Seven presidents between 1890 and 1952 asked Congress to pass a federal law. Anti-lynching bills were often defeated due to the strong opposition of democratic senators and filibustering within the senate.


  • Wells-Barnett, I. B., & P., L. V. L. (1899). Lynch law in Georgia: a six-weeks record. Retrieved from
  • Public Broadcasting Service. (2002, October 1). The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.


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