One Hundred Years of Jim Crow
Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, white people in the South found ways to maintain their accustomed power over black people through a combination of laws, social customs, and mob violence. This system, known as “Jim Crow,” rested on five pillars of oppression:
Millions of black people migrated to the North hoping to escape Jim Crow, only to find “sundown towns,” as wells as schools, neighborhoods, hotels, theaters, and restaurants segregated not by law, but by custom. The North even had its share of Jim Crow “collectibles,” cross-burnings, and lynchings.
Jim Crow is said to have ended in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act that outlawed segregation in schools, workplaces, and public accommodations and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that outlawed discriminatory voting practices.
This gallery is constantly adding new exhibits. Please check back periodically to see exhibits as we post them.
“Jim Crow” refers to a five-part system developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s to support white supremacy and oppress black citizens. Although there were laws that discriminated against African Americans throughout the country, the Jim Crow system existed only in the South. This exhibit briefly describes the five oppressions of the Jim Crow system.
From about 1900 to 1965, most African Americans were not allowed to vote in the South. White people in power used many methods to keep black people from voting. Some of these methods also prevented poor white people from voting. Today there are still laws and customs that make it harder for African Americans, other minorities, and some whites to vote.
Education is the key to economic success. It is true now, and it was true in the Jim Crow South. Southern education was not very good – even for white children. But education for blacks in the South in the early 1900s was worse in many ways. In this exhibit you can learn what school was like for most African American children in the South – and why.
In 1927, a frenzied white mob in Little Rock, Arkansas, was focused on revenge. A little white girl had been murdered and they wanted to lynch whoever did it. When they grabbed a black man, they knew he wasn’t the killer. Still, they thought he’d done something else that made them mad. John Carter was their scapegoat: he paid the price for something he didn’t do.
Between 1912 and 1932, nearly 5,000 “Rosenwald schools” for black children were established in the South. The money to start them came from a Jewish donor, Julius Rosenwald, who collaborated with Booker T. Washington. By 1932, about one-third of black students in the South were attending Rosenwald schools. In addition to 4,977 schools, Rosenwald contributed to 217 homes for teachers. He also established 163 machine shops where students learned practical skills.
How the first African American voters started out with the Republican Party – and how most ended up voting with the Democratic Party today.
In 2006, ABHM brought the traveling exhibit “Hateful Things” from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. Two Milwaukee teens made this excellent short video about the exhibit and what they learned from it. In this exhibit you can see racist memorabilia and visit the Jim Crow Museum.
Chicago artist Jennifer Scott shares her vision of what happened after the lynching parties, photographers, and spectators left their dead victims. The “postcards” in this exhibit’s title refer to the souvenir photos that were made into postcards that lynching participants sent to family and friends. Because of these popular cards, we know what lynching victims looked like in death. But do we give any thought to the mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who came to cut their loved ones down?
On a hot August night in 1930, 15,000 people flooded into the small Indiana town of Marion to see a great spectacle. Three black teenagers were being lynched for supposedly raping a white woman and killing a white man. The boys were savagely beaten by a mob of men, women and children. One by one they were hanged. Two died – but with the rope already tightening around his neck, one boy was saved.
The souvenir photo taken of this “spectacle lynching” is very well-known. They say it inspired the song “Strange Fruit,” written by teacher Abel Meeropol and made popular by singer Billie Holiday.
This exhibit pays tribute to people who fought hatred and injustice in the Jim Crow period. Some of these are well-known; others are unsung, ordinary people. Every quarter we will add more stories about the many heros of this era.
To inaugurate the exhibit, we present three unsung heros who opposed the infamous lynching in Marion, Indiana in 1930: Flossie Bailey and Grace and William Deeter.