On a Powerful Racist

Jim’s legacy remains that of one of America’s most infamous racists. From what historians can piece together from various stories, Jim came from St. Louis, Missouri, and was first received public notice on stages across the country performing blackface “minstrel shows” to the delight of white audiences in the years before the American Civil War.

After the war is when Jim turned to politics and really began his pernicious campaign of hate against Black Americans. Jim, feeding on the hatred most southerners felt towards the newly-freed slaves of the region and playing on whites’ fears and prejudices, worked to pass laws that gradually wore away the precious rights that had been bought with blood on battlefields across the country during the war. Even the passage of Constitutional amendments that were supposed to guarantee rights of equality and justice before the law, voting rights, and other freedoms were worn away by the enormous amount of racist-based work Jim did across almost all states in the old Confederacy.

For example, the voting rights that Black men had won after the war were taken away by Jim’s efforts. He worked to pass laws that created such things as poll taxes (which most Black voters couldn’t pay) and literacy tests (again, which most Black voters couldn’t pass but weren’t given to White voters), thus effectively depriving Blacks of their rights as citizens. These types of laws stayed on the books in some states until the 1960s and have seen a revival in legislation requiring specific types of voter identification that Black citizens often find difficult to procure. That’s how pervasive Jim’s lasting legacy has been.

Courts, stocked with Jim’s allies, consistently applied justice unfairly to Black lawbreakers compared to White defendants. Laws were passed in many states at Jim’s direction that eroded or severely limited the ability of Black citizens to own land, to own businesses, or to travel freely. It was as if Jim’s purpose was to return Black citizens to, if not a state of legal and physical enslavement, at least a social and economic one.

And Jim’s plan worked. Jim’s efforts are why people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had to, in his words, “fight for something that should have been mine since birth” through the 1960s and even today. So, it’s easy to see why Jim remains today the premier racist and bigot produced by this nation. However, Jim isn’t one person, or even a person, actually.

You know him as Jim Crow.


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