Despite it’s self-characterization as a western town, Fort Worth was not foreign to the lifestyle of the Jim Crow South. Below is a brief overview of American life under Jim Crow, and the subsequent pages convey specifics about Jim Crow in Fort Worth.
The 1870’s in the United States presented an interesting time for Americans. The relatively recent abolition of slavery after the Civil War resulted in the possibility of racial integration across the country. However, a large population of white Americans were not comfortable with the idea of racial integration. Even though the institution of slavery was outlawed the racism that was deeply embedded in slavery was still in existence. Through increasing efforts to uphold the status quo of segregation and classifying African Americans as second class citizens, the era of Jim Crow was born and would last until the 1960s.
As the era of Jim Crow began, various states across the United States began passing laws that prohibited racial integration in many forms. Many laws prohibited interracial marriages, permitted discrimination in public facilities and in some cases mandated segregation. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 aimed to prevent racial discrimination in public facilities, but it was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1883. Jim Crow was not only reinforced by laws, but religious institutions also supported segregation through teachings such as the promotion of whites as “God’s chosen people.”
Through various agents of socialization, segregation and Jim Crow laws became societal norms that created a caste system in which black Americans were clearly not equal to white Americans. In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case upheld the notion of separate but equal facilities for black Americans. The rule effectively allowed states to enforce segregation, thus promoting a society in which racial discrimination was enforced and mandated by law.
For nearly a century, the nature of Jim Crow dictated the life in the southern states and it’s reach stretched to parts of the north. The following laws, institutions and behavioral norms are examples of life under Jim Crow.
- Neighborhoods: Neighborhoods were clearly segregated by race during Jim Crow and efforts to integrate neighborhoods were frequently met with resistance. This practice was usually enforced by city ordinances and law enforcement across America.
- Public Spaces: Black Americans often were not allowed to shop, eat or participate in the same spaces in which white Americans were allowed. This led to separate drinking fountains, bathrooms, restaurant accommodations and in many cases “whites only” establishments.
- Jobs: Since blacks were largely regarded as inferior citizens, they were often discriminated against in the job sector. This discrimination resulted in blacks predominantly occupying unskilled service jobs that provided them with low wages. The outcome of this practice was that there was a disproportionate amount of black families that lived in poverty.
- Schools: Due to segregation, black and white students often attended school in segregated institutions. As a result, black schools were often poorly funded, given minimal resources and received very little attention from the white community, thus producing a marginalized educational environment for black students.
- Poll Taxes and Literacy Tests: In effort to keep blacks from participating in politics, states developed poll taxes that mandated that people pay fees in order to register to vote. Since the fees were relatively high, the burden of poll taxes would make it very difficult for lower income families to register to vote. In many cases, Poll Taxes were reinforced through literacy tests, in which people had to pass in order to vote. The tests were often administered orally by whites that would then determine whether or not someone would pass. Literacy tests were primarily used to prohibit blacks from voting.
- Language: Jim Crow produced and furthered the use of racially derogatory language. Words such as nigger, boy, coon, darkies and negro became commonplace and were used to perpetuate the idea that blacks were inferior to whites.
- Lynchings: Throughout the Jim Crow era, many blacks across the U.S. were killed in demonstrations by white mobs known as lynchings. Lynchings would occur in forms such as hanging, public shootings and burning people alive and were used as a method of social control. Lynchings would happen in response to an event, or in some cases for no apparent reason at all, and served as a form of domestic terrorism.
As Jim Crow continued to develop, its practices became the social norm in many parts of America. The inequities that Jim Crow perpetuated became part of the reality in America, and thus became a way of life. In Fort Worth, Jim Crow dictated many of the social norms that surrounded the city as it is apparent that there were many discriminatory practices present in the city.