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Who Was Jim Crow?

Updated: Nov 6, 2021

We have all heard of Jim Crow. Nearly every law that is passed by Republican lawmakers is often scrutinized by the Democrats as "reminiscent of the Jim Crow laws". But who exactly was Jim Crow? Why is he associated with discrimination laws? And are we in danger of repeating the evil of the Jim Crow laws?

Many will be surprised to hear that Jim Crow was not actually a real person. He was not some evil congressman who made a push to pass discrimination laws. His origins are actually far more interesting.

In the 1830s, an actor named Thomas Dartmouth Rice made a name for himself by performing an act in which he played a clumsy, dimwitted minstrel named Jim Crow. Rice portrayed this man as a black man, and the entire act was meant to be a comedy at the expense of black people. The act became so popular, that the name "Jim Crow" began to simply be used by white people as a derogatory term, similar to the n-word. The popularity of the term slowly died down, but it was quickly revived when a new set of discrimination laws were passed in 1877.

No one is exactly sure as to why the term "Jim Crow" has been associated with the laws, aside from its connection to black discrimination, but nearly everyone acknowledges that the laws were evil.

These laws varied in their severity, but they were indeed severe, especially in the South. Poll taxes were common, and voters of all colors were required to pay a tax before voting, consisting of usually 1 - 2$. While on paper it applied to everyone, exceptions were often made for whites who could not afford it, and it led to the disenfranchisement of around half of black voters.

Another method used for the disenfranchisement of black voters was literacy tests. Since most blacks had formerly been slaves, many of them were illiterate. Of course on paper, whites had to pass these tests as well, but whites were far more literate on average, and once again, exceptions were made for those who did not qualify.

This is not to mention the segregation laws that had been put in place. They were upheld in multiple supreme court decisions, citing that races were capable of being separate, yet equal. And in nearly all public places, bathrooms, restaurants, trains, and workplaces, blacks and whites were segregated.

Is America at risk of reliving the Jim Crow laws? Of course, nearly all conservatives would argue no. But the media refers to Jim Crow so often it is easy to forget just how oppressive these laws were. Not allowing women to go into men's bathrooms, and requiring an ID in order to vote is not even close to the horrors of the Jim Crow laws. Brown vs the Board of Education has ensured that segregation will never again be present in the United States, and voting has never in history been easier than it is today.

So make sure you vote as often as you can. America is an incredible place. Vote by mail, vote early, vote the day of, it is your choice. Don't take your rights for granted. To quote a great man, "Freedom is a fragile thing and it's never more than one generation away from extinction."

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