What Did the Jim Crow Laws Do?

The Jim Crow laws legally segregated blacks from whites in the southern United States, from the Reconstruction period following the Civil War until the 1950s and 1960s, when they were repealed. Although the laws guaranteed African-Americans separate but equal status in theory, in practice, facilities for blacks were inferior.

In 1866, the U.S. Congress passed the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed equal rights for all citizens, including newly freed black slaves. In reaction, many Southern states refused to ratify the amendment and instead passed the so-called "Jim Crow" laws. Although the details varied from state to state, in general, the laws separated whites and blacks in areas such as transportation, schools, restaurants, hotels, parks, drinking fountains, restrooms and other public facilities. They prevented blacks from voting through the imposition of poll taxes, residency requirements, and comprehension and literacy tests. They also forbade interracial marriage. The Jim Crow laws were enforced with a combination of all-white courts and vigilante violence.

The Jim Crow laws remained largely unchallenged until the 20th century, when a number of U.S. Supreme Court rulings overturned them and forbade segregation in residential areas, public educational facilities, and interstate and local transportation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned segregation in all public accommodations, including hotels, restaurants, shops, private schools and places of employment. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated the barriers to voting for all U.S. citizens, regardless of race.