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The “Jim Crow” System

An essay which discusses some of the long term and short term side effects of the "Jim Crow" system.

After the Civil War in 1865, Congress began Reconstruction in the South. This, among other things, had in mind giving rights and citizenship to former slaves. Such amendments as the 13th, the 14th, and the 15th aimed to cement into the Constitution African American rights and suffrage. In 1877, Reconstruction ended as Rutherford B. Hayes took up the presidency, as part of the deal that allowed him to take the presidency was that he would withdraw federal troops from the South. With these troops gone, the blacks no longer had any friends in the South – and so the South did with them as they pleased. It really is difficult to claim that the blacks were better off after the Civil War.

                The result of the end of Reconstruction was the birth of the “Jim Crow” system in the South, whose immediate affects were numerous. The loss of black rights and suffrage, though not officially announced, meant that any black that attempted to assert his/her rights faced unemployment, eviction, and physical danger. There, naturally, was also a reduced voter turnout for blacks at the polls as those that voted faced the possibility of death. Given the loss of political power, blacks were now also forced into sharecropping and tenant farming. Former slaves now found themselves serving their former masters who were “landlords” and “creditors,” and in constant debt to them.

                Long-term results of the “Jim Crow” system in the South were also numerous. Informal separation in the years after the Civil War later turned into systematic, state-level laws that authorized segregation in the South and overall racism towards blacks increased, both of which would last for over a century. Segregation was later enforced in the Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), provided that whites and blacks had equal but separate facilities – needless to say, the equality condition was not upheld. The South also passed literacy requirements for voters, voter-registration laws, and poll taxes to ensure that blacks would be unable to vote. These removed the possibility of a black politician for nearly a century to come.

                The sharecropping system was so difficult to overcome due to the fact that it favored the whites. It was, in essence, no different from the master-slave system in the pre-Civil War South. Largely, the only difference now was that the tenant or sharecropper could face eviction if he/she did not meet his quota (before, the slave faced whipping). The sharecropper also faced manipulative merchants and storekeepers – through a “crop-lien” system; storekeepers extended credit to small farmers for food and supplies and as an exchange received a portion of their cotton harvest. This system could easily be abused in favor of the merchant/store keeper – and it was – which could then keep the sharecropper in a permanent debt.

                Immediately after the Civil War, blacks were certainly better off. They had just received their freedom, and not long later they received citizenship and its associated rights, suffrage, and help with education. They also had federal protection both politically in Congress (the Republicans were their friends, and they also had black senators and congressmen) and locally with federal troops. However, with the end of Reconstruction, they lost most, if not all of these benefits. To begin with, blacks after the Civil War were never economically independent – the end of Reconstruction and the birth of the Jim Crow system made cemented this fact. Now, they no longer had rights due to the fact white Democrats were in power in the South, and could in no way assert their rights.

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