Mississippi: A Documentary History

By Bradley G. Bond | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
THE JIM CROW WORLD

The institution of slavery placed black and white Mississippians in close proximity to each other. During the long years of slavery, the law and common practice provided for different treatment of the two races, but fear of rebellion and distrust of enslaved labor made it necessary for slaves and masters to live, work, and often to worship together. The abolition of slavery and the establishment of citizenship for African Americans presented to white Mississippians committed to maintaining black subordination a peculiar question: How could blacks be kept in “their place” when the Federal government insisted that they be treated equitably before the law? White Mississippians answered the question by insisting on the rigid division of the world into black and white spheres, thereby defying the intent of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, as well as the spirit of true citizenship promised by Reconstruction. In some instances, the segregation of blacks was maintained by law; in other instances, “customs” were quickly crafted to assert and maintain segregation.

Perhaps the first facilities to experience segregation were railroad cars. As early as the 1870s, Ham Carter, a black Republican, sued the Mississippi Central Railroad Company for selling his wife a first-class ticket and forcing her to sit in the second-class compartment. His suit was not successful, and the practice of segregation continued unabated. In fact, in the famous 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision handed down by the Supreme Court, the U.S. government supported white southerners in their effort to establish segregation.

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