After the Civil War, African Americans were free but not equal. The Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, were made virtual dead letters by hostile court decisions, culminating in 1896 in Plessy v. Ferguson, which gave legal sanction to the principle of "separate but equal" facilities segregated by race.
In fact, separate facilities for blacks were hardly ever equal. They were inferior because segregation—the separation of people based on skin color—was based on the idea, expressed in the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision of 1857, that blacks were "an inferior and subordinate class of beings." Despite the Civil War and emancipation, this remained the attitude of most whites and, hence, of governments. Jim Crow, taking its name from a fictional minstrel character, was the name given to America's own system of racial apartheid.
In Virginia, the South, and some northern states, Plessy v. Ferguson, both confirmed the status quo and gave impetus to even more rigid segregation laws. Blacks had to sit at the back of streetcars or stand if there were not enough seats for whites. They were made to sit at separate sections of theaters, libraries, and train stations. They could not use water fountains, bathrooms, beaches or swimming pools used by whites. They could only order takeout food from restaurants that served whites. They attended separate, usually ramshackle schools. Social life and everything from sports teams to funeral parlors were segregated.
When blacks gave blood, it was segregated from that of white donors. As black men and women in the uniform of their country traveled, they often could not use restrooms at bus and gas stations and were directed instead to a nearby tree. After Korean War-veteran Thomas Hardy returned home to Virginia in 1951, he wondered "What was I fighting for?"
Stories abound about the origin of the term "Jim Crow." Some describe him as a slave, others assert he was a slave trader. The most plausible theory traces the term's roots to the1830s when Thomas "Daddy" Rice, a minstrel performer, began caricaturing blacks in his show. The character was a buffoon and was treated with disdain. In time the term became synonymous with legalized segregation of the races. This photograph was taken at a protest in August 1963 in front of Richmond's old City Hall. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
In 1874 the Richmond City Council bought sixty acres for William Byrd Park, which eventually featured three artificial lakes, tennis courts, boats to rent, and bathing facilities. All were closed to African Americans. Denied the right to play on these tennis courts, Arthur Ashe of Richmond was forced to leave the state to fully develop his talent. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
The Ku Klux Klan aligned itself with Christian precepts through the use of religious imagery. The cross on the robe represents the crucifixion of Christ, and the symbol in the center represents a drop of Christ's blood. (VHS accession number: 1998.114.2.A-C)