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It is ironic that Teddy calls the buzzards “jimcrowes” because of the social structures set up in post–Civil War America. The period following the US Civil War is called the Reconstruction. This refers to the reconstruction of American social and economic structures after the victory of the Union over the Confederate States. This era followed the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the signing of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, which abolished slavery and were intended to secure citizen status and equal rights for formerly enslaved Africans and African Americans as a whole. However, these legal actions did little more that grant technical freedom to the formerly enslaved.

Following a brief period in which Union delegates upheld these freedoms, Southern states established so-called “Jim Crow laws,” which were intended to maintain racial segregation and white supremacy. These state and local laws continued the systemic racism that still lingers today. The unofficial “Jim Crow” title comes from a fictional character named Jim Crow, a popular minstrel depiction of African Americans that was almost exclusively performed by white performers. Originally popularized by Thomas D. Rice, the name became synonymous with racist stereotypes and was adopted as the name for the laws and era following Reconstruction. Jim Crow is perhaps the best-known characterization of these stereotypes, and the ideas he represents are still steeped throughout American culture.

This in mind, when Teddy refers to the buzzards as “jimcrowes,” it not only plays upon the mix-up between crows and buzzards but also references the symbolism of the buzzards as African Americans in the story. Ellison uses the buzzards as a representation of Black Americans throughout the book, and with this quick allusion to Jim Crow, he underscores the connection and ties in the reality of life within the white supremacist system of the US—something that is both ironic and significant.

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