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The Jim Crow Laws made chain gangs an essential part of the system of control and suppression.  African-Americans were arrested for supposed misdemeanors, convicted, and then leased out effectively put into servitude to do business that profited from their enforced free labor. 

In 1883, the U.S. Supreme Court began to strike down the foundations of the post-Civil War Reconstruction, declaring the Civil Rights Act of 1875, unconstitutional.  The Court also ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited state governments from discriminating against people because of race but did not restrict private organizations or individuals from doing so.  Thus railroads, hotels, theatres, and the like could legally practice segregation.  Eventually, the Court also validated state legislation that discriminated against Blacks. 

In 1896, it legitimized the principle of "separate but equal" in its ruling Plessy v. Ferguson.  The Court held that separate accommodations did not deprive blacks of equal rights if the accommodations were equal.  In 1899, the Court went even further declaring in Cumming v. County Board of Education: Laws establishing separate schools for Whites were valid even if they provided no comparable school for Blacks.  The high court rulings led to a profusion of Jim Crow laws. 

By 1914, every Southern State had passed laws that created two separate societies one Black, the other white.  Blacks and Whites could not ride together in the same railroad cars, sit in the same waiting rooms, use the same washrooms, eat in the same restaurants, or sit in the same theaters.  Blacks were denied access to parks, beaches, and picnic areas; they were barred from many hospitals.  What had been maintained by custom in the rural South was to be maintained by law in the urban South. 


Revised: July 18, 2013.