The roots of Jim Crow laws began as early as 1865, immediately following the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States. Black codes were strict local and state laws that detailed when, where and how formerly enslaved people could work, and for how much compensation. The codes appeared throughout the South as a legal way to put Black citizens into indentured servitude, to take voting rights away, to control where they lived and how they traveled and to seize children for labor purposes.
The legal system was stacked against Black citizens, with former Confederate soldiers working as police and judges, making it difficult for African Americans to win court cases and ensuring they were subject to Black codes. These codes worked in conjunction with labor camps for the incarcerated, where prisoners were treated as enslaved people. Black offenders typically received longer sentences than their white equals, and because of the grueling work, often did not live out their entire sentence.
During the Reconstruction era, local governments, as well as the national Democratic Party and President Andrew Johnson, thwarted efforts to help Black Americans move forward. Violence was on the rise, making danger a regular aspect of African American life. Black schools were vandalized and destroyed, and bands of violent white people attacked, tortured and lynched Black citizens in the night. Families were attacked and forced off their land all across the South.
At the start of the 1880s, big cities in the South were not wholly beholden to Jim Crow laws and Black Americans found more freedom in them. This led to substantial Black populations moving to the cities and, as the decade progressed, white city dwellers demanded more laws to limit opportunities for African Americans.
Jim Crow laws soon spread around the country with even more force than previously. Public parks were forbidden for African Americans to enter, and theaters and restaurants were segregated. Segregated waiting rooms in bus and train stations were required, as well as water fountains, restrooms, building entrances, elevators, cemeteries, even amusement-park cashier windows. Laws forbade African Americans from living in white neighborhoods. Segregation was enforced for public pools, phone booths, hospitals, asylums, jails and residential homes for the elderly and handicapped.
Some states required separate textbooks for Black and white students. New Orleans mandated the segregation of prostitutes according to race. In Atlanta, African Americans in court were given a different Bible from white people to swear on. Marriage and cohabitation between white and Black people was strictly forbidden in most Southern states. It was not uncommon to see signs posted at town and city limits warning African Americans that they were not welcome there. Continue reading from History Channel