Black History Month: Jim Crow On The Rails

By John T. McCutcheon - Cropped from the Mississippi at the St. Louis Fair cartoon by John T. McCutcheon, scanned from book The Mysterious Stranger and Other Cartoons by John T. McCutcheon, New York, McClure, Phillips & Co. 1905. Book reprints a collection of McCutcheon’s cartoons, some dating back a few years., Public Domain,

Jim Crow laws were a series of laws and practices that enforced racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans in the United States, particularly in the South. These laws were in effect from the late 19th century until they were gradually dismantled in the mid-1960s as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. One area in which these laws were particularly enforced was in the use of trains.

African Americans were required to use separate train cars, known as “Jim Crow cars,” which were often older and in worse condition than the cars designated for white passengers. These cars were typically located at the back of the train, and African American passengers were not allowed to use the bathrooms or dining cars designated for white passengers. In addition, African American passengers were often subject to harassment and violence by white passengers and train personnel.

The segregation of trains was not only a physical manifestation of the racism and discrimination of the time, but it also had a significant impact on the economic and social mobility of African Americans. The separate train cars were often more overcrowded and less comfortable than the cars designated for white passengers, and African American travelers were often forced to pay higher fares. This made it more difficult and expensive for African Americans to travel for work, education, and other opportunities.

Furthermore, the segregation of trains reinforced the idea that African Americans were inferior and not worthy of the same rights and privileges as white Americans. This mentality was used to justify other forms of discrimination and oppression, such as voting restrictions and unequal access to education and employment.

The Civil Rights Movement, which began in the 1950s and 1960s, challenged the system of Jim Crow laws and practices, including the segregation of trains. Activists staged sit-ins and boycotts to protest the discriminatory treatment of African Americans on trains, and the courts began to strike down Jim Crow laws as unconstitutional. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally ended legal segregation on trains and other forms of public transportation.

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