Jim Crow Law

any of the laws that enforced racial segregation in the U.S. South between the end (1877) of the formal Reconstruction period and the beginning of a strong civil-rights movement (1950s). "Jim Crow" was the name of a minstrel routine (actually "Jump Jim Crow") performed beginning in 1828 by its author, Thomas Dartmouth ("Daddy") Rice, and by many imitators, including Joseph Jefferson. The term came to be a derogatory epithet for blacks and a designation for their segregated life.

From the late 1870s, Southern state legislatures, no longer controlled by carpetbaggers and freedmen, passed laws requiring separation of whites from "persons of color" in public transportation. Generally, anyone of ascertainable or strongly suspected black ancestry in any degree was for this purpose a "person of color"; the pre-Civil War distinction favoring those whose ancestry was known to be mixed--particularly the half-French "free persons of color" in Louisiana--was abandoned. The segregation principle was extended to schools, parks, cemeteries, theatres, and restaurants in an effort to prevent any contact between blacks and whites as equals. In 1954 the Supreme Court declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional and in subsequent decisions ruled similarly on other kinds of Jim Crow legislation. See also black code; racial segregation.