When did the Jim Crow laws of the American South become ratified during the Reconstruction Era and what did they describe?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Jim Crow laws were laws that described the ways in which African Americans were to be segregated from whites.  The Jim Crow laws were not passed or ratified during the Reconstruction Era.  Instead, they only came into being after Reconstruction ended.  We do not typically say that they were “ratified,” but we could potentially say that they were ratified by the Supreme Court’s 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.

During Reconstruction, the states were largely not able to pass any laws that resembled Jim Crow laws.  Reconstruction Era state governments were typically controlled by the North or by people who agreed with the ideas of Reconstruction.  Because of this, they did not pass laws segregating the races.  The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed during Reconstruction, banning discrimination in public accommodations.  The Jim Crow era had not yet begun.

However, Reconstruction ended in 1877.  This meant that the state governments were no longer sympathetic to African Americans.  Worse yet, the Supreme Court ruled in 1883 that the Civil Rights Act did not prevent private citizens from discriminating against African Americans.  This meant that people like store owners could enact policies of segregation on their own without breaking the law.

With Reconstruction having ended, states started to pass Jim Crow laws in the 1880s.  The states did not pass all of their Jim Crow laws at once.  Instead, the laws were passed in a piecemeal fashion.  In 1896, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Plessy.  That ruling held that segregation was legal as long as the races had “separate but equal” facilities provided for them.  This meant in practice that all sorts of segregation would be legal even if that segregation was ordered by the state governments.

Beginning in the 1880s, states passed many Jim Crow laws.  These laws described the ways in which blacks and whites were to be kept separate. 

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