The term Jim Crow is believed to have originated around 1830 when a white, minstrel show performer, Thomas “Daddy” Rice, blackened his face with charcoal paste or burnt cork and danced a ridiculous jig while singing the lyrics to the song, “Jump Jim Crow. ” Rice created this character after seeing (while traveling in the South) a crippled, elderly black man (or some say a young black boy) dancing and singing a song ending with these chorus words: “Weel about and turn about and do jis so, Eb’ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow. ” Some historians believe that a Mr. Crow owned the slave who inspired Rice’s act–thus the reason for the Jim Crow term in the lyrics. In any case, Rice incorporated the skit into his minstrel act, and by the 1850s the “Jim Crow” character had become a standard part of the minstrel show scene in America. On the eve of the Civil War, the Jim Crow idea was one of many stereotypical images of black inferiority in the popular culture of the day–along with Sambos, Coons, and Zip Dandies. The word Jim Crow became a racial slur synonymous with black, colored, or Negro in the vocabulary of many whites; and by the end of the century acts of racial discrimination toward blacks were often referred to as Jim Crow laws and practices. Although “Jim Crow Cars” on some northern railroad lines–meaning segregated cars–pre-dated the Civil War, in general the Jim Crow era in American history dates from the late 1890s, when southern states began systematically to codify (or strengthen) in law and state constitutional provisions the subordinate position of African Americans in society. Most of these legal steps were aimed at separating the races in public spaces (public schools, parks, accommodations, and transportation) and preventing adult black males from exercising the right to vote. In every state of the former Confederacy, the system of legalized segregation and disfranchisement was fully in place by 1910. This system of white supremacy cut across class boundaries and re-enforced a cult of “whiteness” that predated the Civil War. Segregation and disfranchisement laws were often supported, moreover, by brutal acts of ceremonial and ritualized mob violence (lynchings) against southern blacks. Indeed, from 1889 to 1930, over 3,700 men and women were reported lynched in the United States–most of whom were southern blacks. Hundreds of other lynchings and acts of mob terror aimed at brutalizing blacks occurred throughout the era but went unreported in the press. Numerous race riots erupted in the Jim Crow era, usually in towns and cities and almost always in defense of segregation and white supremacy. These riots engulfed the nation from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Houston, Texas; from East St. Louis and Chicago to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the years from 1865 to 1955. The riots usually erupted in urban areas to which southern, rural blacks had recently migrated. In the single year of 1919, at least twenty-five incidents were recorded, with numerous deaths and hundreds of people injured.
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