Mean Meanness

Reflecting on the United States’ Jim Crow laws one has to review how they were a collection of real State and Local statutes that legalized racial segregation.  In the teaching of this Century long hard hitting practice the term Apartheid is never interchanged as it was used in the same law practiced in South Africa.  Apartheid is a rigid  policy of segregating  and economically  and politically oppressing the nonwhite population, within a system that separates people according to skin color, ethnicity, caste, etc.

Historically, the term of Jim Crow Laws somehow does not covey the severity of its use.  Understanding the named came about after an insulting song lyric regarding African Americans, the laws were predominantly in place in the USA southern States for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968.  The southern state leadership wanted to maintain an antebellum class structure by marginalizing black Americans.  Black communities and individuals that attempted to defy Jim Crow laws were met with violence and death. 

BLACK CODES are the roots of Jim Crow laws documented back as early far as 1865, immediately following the ratification of the 13th Amendment that freed four million enslaved black people.  Black Codes were strict laws detailing when, where and how black people could work, and for how much compensation in the USA.  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 strictness practiced is part hate within a legal system stacked against black citizens.  There was money paid to former Confederate soldiers working as police and judges, who’s job it was to ensure, by any means possible, that blacks lose court cases and fall as a victim to the black code laws.

The apartheid practice in the southern states literally used black codes to work in conjunction with labor camps for the incarcerated, where prisoners were treated as slaves.  Black Code Law offenders typically received longer sentences than white people who broke general laws, and because of the grueling work, often did not live out their entire sentence.

Apartheid is a word that did not come into use in South Africa until the 1940’s so it does not match the timing of origin for Jim Crow.  However, in retrospect it sends a much more appropriate harsh description to the times of its existence.  For example, even the national Democratic Party, led by US President Andrew Johnson, thwarted efforts to help the freed black people to move forward.  The violence was condoned and the danger targeted against black Americans received no interference from the US government.  Black schools were vandalized and destroyed, and bands of violent whites routinely attacked black citizens in the night without law enforcement.

These were sometimes gruesome incidents where the black victims were tortured and mutilated before being murdered.  Black families were attacked and forced off their land all across the South.  The most unchecked ruthless organization of the Jim Crow era, the Ku Klux Klan, was born in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, as a private club for Confederate Army veterans.

President Lyndon B. Johnson is quoted from his unprecedented civil rights speech before Congress saying that “A century has passed–more than 100 years–since equality was promised, and yet the Negro is not equal. A century has passed since the day of promise, and the promise is un-kept. The time of justice has now come, and I tell you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back. It is right in the eyes of man and God that it should come, and when it does, I think that day will brighten the lives of every American.  For Negroes are not the only victims.  How many white children have gone uneducated? How many white families have lived in stark poverty? How many white lives have been scarred by fear, because we wasted energy and our substance to maintain the barriers of hatred and terror?”

The real hero of this struggle is the American Negro. His actions and protests, his courage to risk safety, and even to risk his life, have awakened the conscience of this nation. His demonstrations have been designed to call attention to injustice, designed to provoke change; designed to stir reform. He has been called upon to make good the promise of America. And who among us can say that we would have made the same progress were it not for his persistent bravery and his faith in American democracy? For at the real heart of the battle for equality is a deep-seated belief in the democratic process. Equality depends, not on the force of arms or tear gas, but depends upon the force of moral right–not on recourse to violence, but on respect for law and order.