Oratory and Rhetoric in the Nineteenth-Century South: A Rhetoric of Defense

By W. Stuart Towns | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Resolving the South's Problem: Defining the Segregated South

Although the word "segregation" did not enter the South's general vocabulary until early in the twentieth century,1 the practice of separation of the white and black races already had a long history. Antebellum segregation was customary in both North and South and in some places statutes regulated the practice. All public welfare institutions such as jails, hospitals, parks, and cemeteries were segregated; most hotels and restaurants serving whites barred blacks, and theaters and opera houses relegated black patrons to the balconies. As early as 1816, the northern region of the country segregated Negroes in public accommodations, and in Savannah and Charleston, legal codes barred free Negroes from public parks.2

At the end of the Civil War, segregation was common practice in those institutions formed to aid the former slaves, such as poor houses and orphanages. Churches soon developed separate congregations and denominations for black and white members, and separation in what few schools there were in the devastated South was the rule.3 In 1870 Tennessee passed a law against intermarriage, and all other southern states quickly followed suit. Five years later, the Volunteer State enacted the first Jim Crow law requiring separate cars for railroad passengers, and in 1891 a majority of the southern states had similar regulations on their books. A majority of border and southern states had school segregation laws by 1878, and all of them did by the 1890s.4

Northern and Republican apathy for the cause of the freed slaves encouraged the South in its quest for a methodology to control and regulate its black citizens. The Republican-dominated Supreme Court in 1883 outlawed the Civil Rights Act of a decade earlier, and in the most infamous case, Plessey v. Ferguson, declared the separate-but-equal policy that had evolved in the South to be constitutional. During the last decades of the century, whether through custom or by legislative enactment, the amount of segre-

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