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Jim Crow Laws

Passed in the 1880s and 1890s

Excerpts from a Digitized Text  at History Matters.

The first laws passed in the South to impose statewide segregation in public facilities, instituted in the 1880s and 1890s, applied to railroad car seating. During this period, railway lines spread rapidly from cities to rural communities. In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court validated these early "Jim Crow" laws when it ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that a Louisiana statute requiring "separate but equal" accommodations for white and black railroad passengers did not conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment clause guaranteeing all citizens equal protection of the laws. (Jim Crow, the colloquial term for segregation, referred to a blackface character popular on the minstrel stage.) Jim Crow legislation extended throughout the South to schools, hotels, restaurants, streetcars, buses, theaters, hospitals, parks, courthouses, and even cemeteries. Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1946 that a Virginia statute requiring segregated seating interfered with interstate commerce and was thus invalid, the following Jim Crow travel laws remained in force in 1954. That same year, the Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that separate public schools were "inherently unequal" and thus unconstitutional. In 1955, the black community of Montgomery, Alabama, organized a boycott of the city's segregated bus system. In 1956, the Supreme Court ruled Alabama's laws requiring segregated buses unconstitutional. The specific wording of these Jim Crow laws, crafted to maintain the status quo, revealed deep anxieties about race. By allocating to railroad and bus officials "police powers" to enforce segregated seating and in the case of Virginia, power to determine the race of passengers, state legislatures sought to ensure segregation. By exempting certain categories of persons, specifically nurses, servants, and prisoners, the laws also avoided disrupting ways of life that did not threaten tenets of white supremacy.  -- editors of  History Matters

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Railroads (title 48, secs. 186, 196, 197, and 464)

Section 186: Separate but equal waiting rooms.

Section 196: Separate but equal coaches are listed first. Otherwise, a partition is possible in some instances.

Section 197: The conductor must tell each passenger where to sit, that is, in the car or section of the car indicated for his race. If a passenger does not comply, he will be ejected from the train and the railroad will not be liable to damage claims resulting from the ejection. (This law is not operative in the case of passengers of either race who enter the State on a trip from another State which has no such law.)

Section 464: Anyone convicted of violating the above provision will be fined not more than $100.

Railroads (ch. 18 - 2, secs. 205 through 210, inclusive)

Section 205: There shall be equal accommodations for all.

Section 206: The equal accommodations shall be in separate cars or compartments of single car, the amount of space set aside to be reflective of the usual proportion of races in travel at that place.

Section 207: The conductor will assign separate places (to the extent practicable); the conductor is given the police power to carry this out.

Section 208: When a passenger has been assigned an accommodation, he must stay there. The conductor and others of the traincrew have the power to eject passengers.

Section 209: Nurses and servants are exempted from the provisions of this act.

Section 210: This separation must be maintained on sleeping cars also. Car officials have the power to require and maintain this separation and have the power to punish if the public does not maintain it.

Railroads (ch. 60, art. 12, secs. 94 through 98, inclusive; secs. 101 and 103, and 136 through 137)

Section 94: Separate but equal station and travel accommodations shall be provided, including steamboats. Separate cars shall be maintained or separate compartments shall be used under the supervision of the State utilities commission. Exempted from this provision are sleeping cars, express trains through the State, servants and prisoners.

Section 95: Exemptions to the act may be granted in a few cases of small trains operating in out of the way places.

Section 96: In emergencies, a car may be apportioned by the conductor (that is, different races may occupy the car without a partition as long as races are seated separately in the car).

Section 97: Company violation of this act will result in fines of $100 for each day of violation.

Section 98: In one-car trains and similar conveyances, the utilities commission will decide on a solution to the usual provision of maintaining jim-crow toilets.

Section 101: No passenger may enter any part of the train if the conductor has told him not to. To do so, constitutes a misdemeanor for which a fine of $10 may be imposed.

Section 103: A passenger may be ejected for lack of payment or for violating the above provisions.

Section 136: Whites must take seats from the front and colored from the rear. If a passenger is told to move in order to maintain this pattern of seating, he must do it or face a misdemeanor charge for which he may be fined $50 or 30 days. Company officials have police powers to carry out the provisions of this act.

Section 137: These companies will not be liable for mistakes in seating.

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