End of Segregation and the Fight for Equality

How Many Years Ago Did Segregation End?

Segregation is when people are split into different groups based on rules and laws. This is often seen in the workplace, for example a certain job only allows one type of person to work there.

People who believed in equality fought to end segregation. They did this through non-violent civil disobedience, like refusing to give up their seat on a bus (Rosa Parks) or holding sit-ins in all-white restaurants.

Black Codes

As soon as slavery ended in the South with the ratification of the 13th Amendment on January 31, 1865, state governments began a process known as “Black Codes.” These were laws that maintained some of the economic structure of racial slavery and ensured Black people’s availability for cheap labor.

Mississippi’s Black Code, for example, required freedmen to provide written evidence of employment in the beginning of each year or forfeit earlier wages. In South Carolina, a law required Black people to pay an annual tax for occupations outside agriculture and servant work. Punishments for minor offenses included whipping and “hiring out,” which meant forced plantation labor.

These laws were accompanied by violence, which robbed African Americans of any sense of safety and security. Black schools were destroyed and families attacked. In offices, cafeterias, and railroad cars, Black employees were separated from whites. Author Toni Morrison describes the fear and intimidation that Blacks experienced in the Jim Crow era of segregation, which ended with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Jim Crow Laws

After the Civil War, Southern states passed a series of laws known as Jim Crow Laws. These laws were based on the theory that formerly enslaved Black people were inferior to whites. They were enforced in a variety of ways including literacy tests and limiting access to the ballot box. Segregation also governed public areas like schools, buses, water fountains, restaurants and beaches. In addition, covenants and unwritten agreements between real estate interests kept neighborhoods segregated.

The term “Jim Crow” is probably derived from the name of a character in 1800s minstrel shows, where white performers wore blackface to pretend to be Black. However, it is unclear what led to the rise of these racial segregation laws.

Many African Americans became involved in fighting against these oppressive laws. For example, Memphis teacher Ida B. Wells became a leader of the Civil Rights Movement after refusing to leave a first-class train car that was reserved for white passengers. She was forcibly removed by a railroad conductor and sued, winning a case against the company.

The Great Migration

During the Great Migration, six million African Americans left rural Southern states to move to Northern, Midwestern and Western cities. The primary motivation was economic: They wanted to escape poverty by working in meatpacking plants, shipyards and steel mills that paid well. They also hoped that Northern society would be less segregationist than the South.

In their new cities, many of them established community and kinship networks that helped them navigate the challenges of urban life. These communities became the backbones of Northern “Black metropolises” that fueled political activism and new forms of Black culture.

The Great Migration radically changed the demographics of the United States. By the end of World War I, many industrial cities had expanded their populations by 66 percent or more. These migrants reshaped the social geography of the country, and they created a generation that would later produce such figures as Diahann Carroll, Broadway actress; John Coltrane, jazz musician; Bill Russell, NBA star; and Zora Neale Hurston, beloved folklorist.

The Civil Rights Movement

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s finally brought an end to segregation. It helped convince many whites that the system was unjust and that Black people should be treated as equals by the government and by society. The most significant achievement was desegregation of schools, achieved by lawsuits that were combined into the 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965 also played a critical role.

Residential segregation patterns remained even after the Supreme Court ruling. During the Great Migration, African Americans moved into middle-class neighborhoods where they were still subjected to discrimination.

Civil rights activists staged demonstrations and “sit-ins” in public facilities to challenge segregation. One such example was Homer Plessy, who in 1892 refused to give up his seat on a train for a white passenger and was arrested. Plessy argued that the state law requiring segregation violated his right to equality under the law.

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