Jim Crow Laws: How Black People Were Marginalized and Excluded (2023)

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Racial segregation system of black people which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states of the US, between 1877 and the mid-1960s.

Under Jim Crow, African Americans were downgraded to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism.

They were a set of laws regarding the rights of black people, who they were, what they could, and could not do.

The Jim Crow was based on beliefs that:

White people were more superior than blacks in intelligence, morality, and civilized behavior

Sexual relations between blacks and whites would produce a mongrel race which would destroy America

Treating blacks as equals would encourage interracial sexual unions

Any activity which suggested social equality encouraged interracial sexual relations

If necessary, violence must be used to keep blacks at the bottom of the racial hierarchy

Mandated segregation of black people from white people by:

Physical spaces, such as streetcars, trains, schools, parks, hotels, theaters, bathrooms, restaurants, and cemeteries.

-Social activities such as marriage

Separate the two race with highly unequal distributions of wealth

Jobs would be hard for African Americans to get because of the laws.

There would be signs like we only cater for whites or there would be jobs for whites only.

Enabling whites to take over the blacks’ land and exploit them as laborers on white-owned farms

Examples of these laws:

Blacks and whites were not supposed to eat together. If they did eat together, whites were to be served first, and some sort of partition was to be placed between them.

A black male could not offer his hand (to shake hands) with a white male because it implied being socially equal. Obviously, a black male could not offer his hand or any other part of his body to a white woman, because he risked being accused of rape.

If a black person rode in a car driven by a white person, the black person sat in the back seat, or the back of a truck.

Black Boy was published during the imposition of the Jim Crow Laws

Richard Wright learned when he moved to New York that Jim Crow Laws was not only exclusive in the South but they were the most devastating in the South, and this could due to South’s history of slavery, causing the white to accept black emancipation


‘Black Boy’ written by Richard Wright is a book that recounts vivid details, memories and times of his life from childhood to adulthood. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee during the American Civil Rights period and mentions his desire of hunger, fear physical beatings and racism that he had to go through. At six he was a drunkard as he was begging for drinks. After his father leaves the family his mother struggles to support the family before moving to Arkansas to live with his aunt and uncle. While he is in Arkansas, he learns how to fit in, and that adults cannot be trusted. He graduates with a dream to move with his mother and brother up North and also dreams of writing but he continuously gets excluded as people thinks he has lack of knowledge. He saves up money and movies to Memphis and works alone until he has enough money to bring his mother and brother to live with him. Despite loving his family, his relationship with his father and mother in the book is not very stable and his mother is strongly religious and forces him to do things that he does not want to do. (Wright, R. (1963) Black boy. New York, NY, United States: Signet Book.)

Before going onto how African Americans are marginalized, excluded and silenced The response to this law was the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan were whites who opposed of freedom on African Americans. They lynched African Americans, burn their houses and even destroyed buildings. After that the Jim Crow Laws was created which was a Racial segregation system of black people between 1877 and the mid- 1960s. Under the Jim Crow Law, African Americans were downgraded to the status of second class citizens. It was based on beliefs that White people were more superior than blacks in intelligence, morality and civilized behavior. Sexual relations between blacks and whites was not allowed. Blacks and Whites could not sit next to each other and could not use the same toilet. Richard Wright had to experience all of these when he was a kid and when he was an adult. Wright, R. (1963) Black boy. New York, NY, United States: Signet Book.

The definition of marginalized is the fact that a certain group or person is put in a powerless and unimportant position. In the book African Americans and Jews are marginalized by the whites. In Black Boy Richard Wright mentions several Africans Americans girls being employed as maids in the hotel. ‘ Several Negro girls were employed as maids in the hotel, some of whom I knew. One night when I was about to go home I saw a girl who lived in my direction and I fell in beside her to walk part of the distance together. As we passed the white night watchman. He slapped her playfully on her buttocks.’ The watchman then asks Richard Wright if he likes the fact that the girl was slapped and he had no choice but to answer yes. ‘Nigger, you look like you don’t like what I did, he said. I could not move or speak. My immobility must have seemed a challenge to him, for he pulled his gun. Don’t you like it nigger? Yes sir, I whispered with a dry throat. Well, talk like it then, goddammit! (Wright, R. (1963) Black boy. New York, NY, United States: Signet Book.

198) This shows how African Americans are marginalized as they are powerless.

The definition of excluded is the fact that African Americans were prevented from society like the Jim Crow Laws. They could not use the same toilet as whites, could not drink from the same fountain as whites etc.. In Black Boy the example of Richard Wright being excluded is the part where he ask the editor to right the piece of writing he wrote on the local Negro newspaper. The editor pushed his composition book aside and politely rejected him. This shows how the African Americans were not highly regarded and were excluded. ‘ What is that he asked. A story I said. A news story? No fiction. All right. I’ll read it, he said. He pushed my composition book back on his desk and looked at me curiously, sucking at his pipe. But I want you to read it now, I said. He blinked. I had no idea how newspaper were run. I thought that one took a story to an editor and he sat down then and there and read it and said yes or no. I’ll read this and let you know about it tomorrow, he said.’ (Wright, R. (1963) Black boy. New York, NY, United States: Signet Book.165) Another example is the dialogue between Richard Wright and a women. ‘What grade are you in school? Seventh ma’am. Then why are you going to school? She asked in surprise. Well I want to be a writer, I mumbled, unsure of myself; I had not planned to tell her that, but she made me feel so utterly wrong and of no account that I need to bolster myself. A writer, I mumbled. For what? To write stories, I mumbled defensively. You’ll never be a writer, she said. Who on earth put such ideas into your nigger head?’ (Wright, R. (1963) Black boy. New York, NY, United States: Signet Book.147)

Overall in Black Boy Richard Wright experienced lots of racial discrimination in the book which involves around the Civil Rights Act in the U.S

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