Two of my novels, Pale Moon Over Paradise and Five Miles to Paradise, deal with racial segregation and racism during the 1950s. The books are set in Lafayettah County, Mississippi, a fictitious county in the Deep South.
The Fifties were a time of Whites Only – Separate But Not Equal. Yet, these hostile feelings towards different races are not new. They are as old as human history. During the Great Depression, the economic pain that was felt worldwide needed a scapegoat. In Germany, Adolph Hitler came to power on a message of hate for Jewish people.
But did you know that America was a model on which Hitler based his vision of his great European New Order of an Aryan Master Race? 1
Hitler grew up reading tales of the American West by German writer, Karl May. A favorite game was cowboys and Indians. Hitler admired how the United States had displaced the American Indians and allowed European settlers to claim the land. When he came to power, he named his train Amerika. 2
Nazi Germany had a eugenics program to ‘cleanse’ the nation and produce a superior race that become popular after wealthy patrons began supporting the ideas that Hitler propagated.
But did you know that America had its own eugenics program long before Nazi Germany instituted theirs?
Eugenics is a set of beliefs aimed at improving the human race.
In the late 1880s, America was caught up with the idea that Nordic, German, and Anglo-Saxon people were the better than other races. In the United States, laws from the late 1600s were passed in attempts to segregate the races. These laws made it a crime for interracial couples to marry. Similar laws were passed in Nazi Germany and in South Africa during Apartheid. 3
During the late 1920s, eugenics courses were taught in colleges and universities. Early feminists championed eugenics, and under the influence of Margaret Sanger, heralded birth control and sterilization as means of preventing poor or mentally ill or handicapped kids from being born. 4
And this practice wasn’t just ancient history. In 1972, at least 2000 poor black women testified before Congress that they’d been involuntarily sterilized without their knowledge or consent. 5
The 1920s saw the passage of strict immigration laws preventing people deemed ‘inferior’ from entering the U.S.
Jim Crow was a derogatory term for ‘Negro’ that was coined in the 1800s.
After the American Civil War, there was a short time when African Americans had civil rights. But increasingly, the tides turned. Blacks and poor whites were not allowed to vote. If you had not voted, you were not allowed to serve on juries or run for office. 6
In 1912, Woodrow Wilson was elected president. Although a democrat, Wilson was raised in the South. The man who had championed The League of Nations after World War 1 segregated many jobs in the Federal government. Racial prejudice had implemented Jim Crow in the Federal government. 7
EXAMPLES OF JIM CROW LAWS 8
- Blacks and American Indians go to separate schools from whites.
- Blacks used separate bathrooms.
- School books could not be interchanged between black and white schools.
- Blacks ride in the back of public busses.
- Blacks and whites drink from separate water fountains.
- Blacks and whites eat at separate restaurants.
- Blacks and whites go to separate movie houses.
- Blacks were not treated in hospitals where whites were treated.
- Blacks cannot use any public building or property. Public = whites only.
- Separate railroad cars for blacks and whites.
- Railway stations must have separate waiting rooms for blacks and whites.
- Separate street cars for blacks and whites.
- Circuses had to provide 2 ticket offices and 2 separate entrances for blacks and whites.
- Black and white families could not share the same home.
- Black families could not adopt white children. Whites could not adopt black children.
No African Americans in:
- Public libraries
- Public swimming pools
- Public parks
- Public playgrounds
- Blacks were not allowed to be bank tellers or sales clerks.
- If a white person was walking down the sidewalk, blacks had to step off the sidewalk and into the street to allow the white person to pass by.
- Blacks could not look whites in the eye. If he did, he could be jailed for assault.
- Separate telephone booths for blacks and whites.
- Black boxers could not spar with white boxers.
- It was illegal for blacks and whites to play pool in the same bar.
- Blacks and whites were buried in separate cemeteries.
- Black and white inmates were segregated in prisons.
- A black man could not testify in favor or against a white man.
Reasons for the rise of the Jim Crow Laws
- Slavery ended with the Civil War.
- Whites felt threatened by blacks and wanted them to remain second class citizens.
- Blacks cannot use the same hearses as whites.
Separate But Definitely Not Equal
‘Separate but equal’ was a term used during this era. But black schools, housing, and everything else appropriated to them were under-funded or of inferior quality. Black schools often did not have indoor plumbing.
Many black children did not attend school because they were needed to work on farms. If rural areas or small towns did not have funds for two separate school buildings, only the white school was built.
If they did attend school, many black children only completed the lower grades of elementary school. Often, a black school consisted of one room with all grades crowded into the small space. In school, black students weren’t taught things like equality and freedom. 9
Lynching Under Jim Crow
From the late 1800s until 1960s, lynchings occurred in America. Blacks were most often targeted. Some were not only hanged but burned or horribly tortured and mutilated.
Lynchings were often seen as a festive occasion, and a crowd of several thousand would gather to watch and collect grotesque souvenirs. Picture postcards were made to mark the occasion. When times were bad, particularly in the South, the number of lynchings rose. 10
Reasons for the Lynchings
- Whites wanted to keep blacks subordinate through terror and intimidation.
- Economic competition between blacks and whites.
- Blacks were sometimes lynched for land or money.
Other Reasons for Lynchings 11
- Entering a white woman’s room
- Trying to vote
- Running a bordello
- Peeping Tom
- Courting a white woman
- Being obnoxious
- Using obscene language
- Spreading disease
- Being Improper with a white woman
- Throwing stones
- Living with a white woman
- Child abuse
- Injuring livestock
- Mistaken identity
- Unruly remarks
- Voting for the wrong party
- Resisting mob
- Poisoning a well
- Inciting trouble
Approximately 4000 blacks were lynched in the South during the Jim Crow era.
A description of the 1904 lynching – Doddville, Mississippi of Luther Holbert and his wife, who were accused of killing a wealthy white planter:
Both victims were tied to a tree and forced to hold out their hands while members of the mob methodically chopped off their fingers and distributed them as souvenirs. Next, their ears were cut off. Mr. Holbert was then beaten so severely that his skull was fractured and one of his eyes was left hanging from its socket. Members of the mob used a large corkscrew to bore holes into the victims’ bodies and pull large chunks of ‘quivering flesh,’ after which both victims were thrown onto a raging fire and burned. The white men, women, and children present watched the horrific event while enjoying deviled eggs, lemonade, and whiskey in a picnic-like atmosphere. 12
Racism and Jim Crow
Below is something I ran across during my research of these times. Click to read more.
The main beliefs of Jim Crow racism as summed up by one white Southerner in 1913:
- “Blood will tell.”
- The white race must dominate.
- The Teutonic peoples stand for race purity.
- The negro is inferior and will remain so.
- “This is a white man’s country.”
- No social equality.
- No political equality.
- In matters of civil rights and legal adjustments give the white man, as opposed to the colored man, the benefit of the doubt; and under no circumstances interfere with the prestige of the white man.
- In educational policy let the negro have the crumbs that fall from the white man’s table.
- Let there be such industrial education of the negro as will best fit him to serve the white man.
- Only [white] Southerners understand the negro question.
- Let the [white] South settle the negro question.
- The status of peasantry is all the negro may hope for, if the races are to live together in peace.
- Let the lowest white man count for more than the highest negro.
- The above statements indicate the leadings of Providence. 13