The term Jim Crow originates back to 1828 when a white New York comedian, Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice, performed a song and dance routine in blackface. (Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 5:32 PM
I was born and raised in a northern state bordering Canada, in a small, rural community, and now live in Lake Charles. I’ve heard and read about Jim Crow laws, which affected black people. Who was Jim Crow, and what laws did he get passed?
The term Jim Crow originated in the early days of black minstrel shows, which first became popular in the North in the decades before the Civil War. It was not the name of a legislator responsible for segregation laws.
“For the majority of whites living in the pre-Civil War North, slavery and black people were a distant reality, one that evoked mixed emotions,” reads the website for a University of South Florida online exhibit on minstrel shows.
“If slavery was the commodification of black labor, minstrelsy, with its focus on presenting authentically black songs and dances, was the commodification of black culture.”
Minstrel shows, performed by white men in blackface, emphasized black stereotypes and involved jokes and song-and-dance routines. Thomas “Daddy” Rice, often cited as “the father of minstrelsy,” originated the Jim Crow character in a song he wrote and performed in about 1830.
Minstrelsy quickly grew popular, making Rice a fortune and spawning several minstrel troupes, which traveled around the country performing shows before large audiences. One of the earliest and best-known was Dan Emmett’s Virginia Minstrels.
“By the 1860s there were over one hundred full-time national minstrel companies and thousands of small regional and local companies,” Mick Moloney writes in “Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States.”
“Many toured abroad, and Dan Emmett and the Virginia Minstrels were to introduce minstrelsy formally to England and Ireland, where it was instantly successful. A steady stream of American minstrel touring performers visited Ireland for decades, introducing new songs and novel instrumentation, including the banjo, which went on to become a staple instrument in Irish traditional music.”
More on minstrel shows from the USF site:
After emancipation in 1865, African American performers, seeing minstrelsy as an opportunity for advancement, contributed a humanizing element to their portrayal of blacks even though they also performed in blackface. Black performers during the Jim Crow era combined blackface with the newly popular genre of vaudeville and brought a black political agenda to their stage performances.
During the 1930s, minstrelsy lost its widespread popularity to jazz but could still be seen in aspects of American society such as film. The popular film The Jazz Singer (1927) was about a white man wanting to become a blackface performer and featured Al Jolson, the most well-known performer of the decade.
At the time, the film was the biggest earner in Warner Bros., and its success indicated that the age of minstrelsy in American history was far from over. Even in the twenty-first century, the racial stereotypes derived from minstrel shows can still be seen in popular culture.
“Jim Crow,” used as a racial epithet soon after Rice introduced the character, became associated with segregation laws, principally those related to streetcar and train passengers, in the mid- to late 1800s.
Online: http://exhibits.lib.usf.edu/exhibits/show/minstrelsy; www.ferris.edu/news/jimcrow.
The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098 and leave voice mail, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted By: Patricia Davison On: 3/31/2014
Title: "Jim Crow" much worse than your brief description
You didn't elucidate the very serious practice of "Jim Crow" thoroughly enough to educate the curious former-Northerner trying to understand better.
To only say: “Jim Crow,” used as a racial epithet soon after Rice introduced the character, became associated with segregation laws, principally those related to streetcar and train passengers, in the mid- to late 1800s." completely ignores the range and severity of ubiquitous, persistent, oppressive, and violent laws, legal but immoral, passed and practiced by southern state legislatures from the early 1800s through the late 1960s.
Your questioner may be more interested to learn these segregation laws forbad whites and blacks from a great many social interactions, such as intermarriage, friendships, and close cohabitation, creating social monstrosities such as:
separate drinking fountains, separate hotels, separate restaurants, separate schools & colleges, separate neighborhoods, separate housing, separate buses (or seats on buses), separate military divisions, separate hospitals, separate businesses, separate sports teams, separate churches, etc, etc.
In addition, blacks were kept from exercising their right to vote, and were usually forced to accept menial, low-paying jobs as servants, janitors, maids, ditch-diggers, etc., and were forced to behave subserviently around whites. There were also a LOT of lynchings.