The Five Pillars of Jim Crow

Griot: Russell Brooker, PhD

Copy Editors: Reggie Jackson, MS, and Nancy Kaplan, PhD

Photo Editor: Fran Kaplan, EdD


“Jim Crow” refers to a 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.

We can see the system better if we look at its five parts.


1) Economic Oppression

The Jim Crow system was originally established by middle-class and upper-class whites who were afraid of poor blacks and poor whites working together.  In order to keep the poor people from threatening the power of the ruling whites, new laws were made that separated the poor of both races.

Blacks were given the worst jobs for the lowest pay.  Certain good jobs were set aside for whites only.  Workers of both races were stopped if they tried to form labor unions.  Many blacks, and a few whites, were arrested and forced to work as slaves in plantations and mines.


2) Political Oppression

After the Civil War, poor black and white farmers worked together to elected politicians who supported them.  The politicians they elected gave them better government, better roads, and better working conditions.

In response, one major goal of Jim Crow was to ensure that poor whites and blacks would never unite again.

To stop the black political threat, blacks were “disenfranchised,” or not allowed to vote. Lack of voting power made blacks unable to remove elected officials they did not like.  It also made them easy targets for politicians who wanted to distract the white voters’ attention from unfair taxes and corrupt governments.


3) Legal Oppression

Legal oppression went along with political oppression.  Blacks had very difficult times in courts.  All the judges and almost all juries were white.

In most areas, black witnesses were not allowed to testify against whites.

4) Social Oppression

Through racial segregation, blacks and whites were kept apart as much as possible.

Laws forced blacks and whites to be separate from each other in a variety of public accommodations.

  • There were separate black and white rest rooms, drinking fountains, and waiting rooms.
  • Blacks sat in the balcony of movie theaters or in separate theaters for blacks only.
  • Blacks could not order food at the front of restaurants. Many restaurants simply refused to serve blacks at all.
  • Blacks and whites went to county fairs on different days.
  • Blacks were not allowed to use public libraries.

Segregation is the most famous part of Jim Crow. The Jim Crow system is often called “the segregation system.”


5) Personal Oppression

Black people were rarely shown common courtesy by white people.  In fact, whites often picked out for individual blacks for harassment.

White people could threaten, beat, rape, torture, and kill blacks with little fear of punishment.


Russell G. Brooker, PhD, is Professor of Political Science at Alverno College, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  He teaches courses in political science, and research methodology.  He has taught courses in African American history, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement since 1981.  He is currently writing a book on the civil rights movement before 1954.

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  1. Freedom Bound or Bound from Freedom? «polygrafi polygrafi on February 24, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    […] […]

  2. Katie on January 16, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    I am totally against racism

  3. Jennifer Wentworth and Cj Parker on February 10, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    Thank you for giving us info and great pictures to go with our National History Day Website.

  4. josh brose on March 14, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    hi im josh i like this website it is reliable :)

  5. michael on May 23, 2014 at 8:31 AM

    wow this is so cruel to do that i mean i would hate myself if i would even think about that =(

  6. frederick Delk on June 7, 2014 at 11:47 PM

    African American Homeland Association
    The key to Political, Economic and Government Power is control of State Institutions.
    I claim North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee the African American Homeland.. To Acquire these 8 Southern State Institutions, I suggest we make a modern day mass migration back to the 8 Southern States.
    36 million Black Americans flooding into the eight states would create disorder, causing 75% of the white population to flee those 8 States. We will have 80% majority of the population. Then we will vote in 8 Black Governors, 16 Black Senators, 66 Black Congressmen, 688 Counties are under Black control, 3,299 incorporated cities and town will mostly have Black Mayors, We will have control of the State Court and local court Systems, most of the judges are Black, the Prosecutors are Black. Duke Energy, Georgia Power, The Southern Company, Tennessee Valley Authority, Louisiana Power, Arkansas Power are all Black owned. Regional Fix line Company Black owned, regional Cell phone Company Black owned control 80% of the market, and so on. For More Information goto

  7. Chasen Teel on January 30, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    thanks for the info.

  8. Chasen Teel on January 30, 2015 at 10:41 AM

    racism is messed up we are all equal in my eyes.

  9. Mary Weber on February 26, 2015 at 4:13 PM

    I am white and I have always hated segregation. I have never understood how any one could treat other people so awful. The color of a person’s skin to me is just a color. We are all made the same way. All people have the same feelings. It makes my soul sad to see and know about such horror.

  10. Jim Crow on March 27, 2015 at 10:18 AM

    Very reliable

  11. Kamau Cordova on May 15, 2015 at 5:18 PM

    “If people don’t know their history, they are bound to repeat it” Thank you!

  12. Dennis Sweatt on July 7, 2015 at 3:21 PM

    Please put dates on your pictures. When sharing I would like to point out to people how recent segregation was.
    Thank you.

  13. Mindy on December 14, 2015 at 3:50 PM

    A horrible history, very sad that people especially children had to witness the racism of others. It definitely does still exist, this is because the generation of people who were children when this happened are older adults today. When this generation dies out it hopefully won’t be as bad.But calling itt a holocaust? No. Look at what the Jewish community dealt with in the 30s, MILLIONS died in camp. With segregation and slavery, yes a lot died also, but no this is nothing like the holocaust.

  14. Justin Nessmith on January 14, 2016 at 1:36 PM

    Very racist

  15. Willow on January 18, 2016 at 1:58 PM

    How do I cite the photo images from this website in MLA format since each photo does not have the photo taker etc.

    • dr_fran on January 25, 2016 at 7:01 AM

      Willow, many images on our site are available online. Unfortunately few have cited credits and as a volunteer-run organization, ABHM does not have the staff-power to hunt down and note the citations ourselves. That’s something you will have to do for each image you plan to use.

  16. Keith on June 25, 2016 at 4:02 PM

    Some people are saying that the black slaves skin was being used to create leather shoes and clothing. My question is if this is true or not?

    • dr_fran on October 23, 2016 at 11:55 AM

      Here is a reply from a reputable source, the director of the Ferris University Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memoribiia, Dr. David Pilgrim. It includes a newspaper article from 1888 detailing this practice.

  17. Alliey on September 27, 2016 at 12:26 PM

    I am white and I’ve never understood the point of racism. Because of slavery, we are partly responsible for African Americans even being in the U.S and on top of that it is not as if we get choose what race we are. No one should be judged or dismissed as unequal just because of their skin color. How could so many people be so brainwashed other wise? It really wasn’t long ago when this all happened and I’m sometimes ashamed to know that there are still people like that today.

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