The literal meaning of segregation is ”to keep one thing separate from other”. While in the American history ”It is a legal or social practice of separating an individual or a group based on race, religion, class and ethnicity that could be practice as the society’s customs or norms (De Facto segregation) or implemented as laws or actions by the legal authorities. (De Jure (legal) segregation)”. After winning the Civil War of 1865, the Northern African Americans were apparently successful in ending the slavery, but it was prevalent in both States. During 1920s and 1930s, African Americans faced the worst racial, social discrimination and persecution which made it difficult for them to live with freedom and equality. However, there were several other obstacles in their way of achieving this independence. These obstacles were mostly shaped by the Southern WASP and KKK groups, who were determined in taking harsh measures to implement the radical ideology of White Supremacy, also, the Federal government was fully supporting them. Similarly, the impassiveness of political leaders and lack of uniformity among the Black civil right movements also prevented the African American to have their equal rights. Therefore, on the one hand, it could be argued that racial, social and political segregation deeply embedded the American history but on the other hand, the Supreme court lack of interest in challenging these discrimination issues could be a more significant hurdle in the Blacks Civil rights fight for equality and fair treatment.
Historians argued that the ”North won the Civil War, whereas, South won the Reconstruction”. This is because after the Civil war, several amendments were made in the American Constitution, offering civil rights protection, citizenship and the right to vote, (13th, 14th and 15th amendments(1865)(1867)(1868) respectively) but they were openly rejected. This rejection was mostly from the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) as they considered African American as the major threat to their White supremacy ideology. To preserve their Superiority, WASP started to take both formal and informal measures in order to underline the subordinate position of the Blacks. One such measure was racial segregation. In a book named Race Relations in the Urban South (1978), Howard N. Rabinowitz argued that racial segregation appeared as a substitute for racial exclusion.
The White supremacists did not accept racial equality and adopted segregation as soon as the Blacks’ slavery ended. For this, they started manoeuvring the constitutional policies and introduced a set of laws named as Jim Crow Laws (the name coined after a stage artist Thomas Dartmouth ”Daddy” Rice, who with black makeup used to dance on songs in a way to make fun of Blacks). These laws are examples of De Facto segregation. Joel Williamson has concluded in his book named ”After Slavery: The Negro in South Carolina during Reconstruction 1861-1877 (1965)” that freed blacks encountered segregation soon after emancipation. He also added that specific laws were not necessary to keep the race apart because segregation was maintained De Facto. Due to this the public conveyance, educational institutions, churches, juries, residential areas and even the public toilets and cemeteries were segregated. Blacks were also stopped from casting their votes. The Tulsa Race Riots and the trial of Scottsboro Boys (1931) are the best examples of entrenched racism within the Southern society. Furthermore, this racial segregation grew out of racial fear and the desire to control. Therefore, White Supremacist created opportunities for openly denying Blacks’ equal rights in order to keep themselves separated from the ”inferior race” and preventing them from achieving liberty.
One of the biggest supporters of WASP’s White Supremacy ideology were the KKK (Ku Klux Klan), an extremist group which was founded immediately after the Civil war and became a terrorist movement with over 100,000 members and this number reached 5 million by the mid-1920s. They targeted every ”un American” group, specifically African Americans and used violence and terror in the pursuit of White Supremacy agenda. One such violent action was Lynching (hanging without trials, Rope Law). According to the Tuskegee Institute of Alabama, between 1882 and 1968, almost 4,743 people were lynched including 3,446 African Americans. They received the full political support nationwide and if African Americans overstepped Jim Crow’s boundary line, they were forced back with violence. This fear in the African Americans became an important obstacle in the campaign of their civil rights and no one dared to step forward against this brutality.
This prejudice attitude was greatly aided by the Federal government of the Supreme Court. Although, Supreme Court inscribed the concept of ”Separate but Equal” in its law but made segregation a legal practice which paved the way to the social and legal system of separation. Also, localities started to follow them without any hesitation. The State was always ready to interfere if the Whites fail to enforce their superiority. Government’s lack of apathy is evident in the cases of Plessy and Fergusons (1896) and Wyatt and Adair (1926), in these cases the State government stepped in the support of social segregation. On Plessy case, John A. Kerr said in his book ”The USA 1918-1968”:
”The ruling legitimated Jim Crow laws throughout the USA and in effect, legalised segregation on a national scale”.
Court decision marked the formal beginning of Jim Crow’s Law and ended the Reconstruction Era. Similarly, American Presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover (the 28th, 30th and 31st president respectively) were racists and supporters of White supremacy. They did not take any significant action against these discernments. On one occasion in 1916, Black protesters complained about the toilets and eating facilities segregation in Federal government offices and that Jim crow Laws were being used to bound the Blacks to the lowest paid jobs and in response Woodrow Wilson said:
”Segregation is not humiliating and is a benefit for you Black gentlemen.”
However, this lack of apathy is also due to the lack of power. For example, after winning the 1932 and 1936 elections, Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to keep his WASP supporters majority, so, he did not pass the anti-lynching laws or banned the Poll tax. Therefore, it is clear that De Jure segregation in the Southern States was one of the major obstacles which had an important impact on Black Americans in achieving equality and they found it extremely difficult to challenge the legal segregation.
Unfair systems of Sharecropping and tenancy of lands become widespread in the South as a result of dramatical turmoil due to the slaves’ emancipation and Reconstruction Era. With this many White landowners attempted to re-establish the labour force over the Black farmers which was indeed a system near slavery without legal sanctions. As a result, a tenancy ladder evolved and climbing up the ladder was practically impossible for the poor black farmers which confined them to poverty and social inferiority. Although, different so-called reforms such as “Forty Acres and a Mule” (1865) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)(1939) were introduced but failed badly. In 1865, Policies of Freedmen’s Bureau and Black Codes were also introduced forcing the freedman to sign the unfair sharecropping or labour contracts to regulate White Supremacy. In addition, the notion of “Last Hired, First Fired” was practised generally and Whites ensured that Blacks remained under control with less employability and poor living standards. This impacted black Americans for decades to come, worsening their living standards and leaving them less optimistic about their situations’ improvement. Perhaps one of the core reasons that prevented the African Americans from having the freedom they desperately wanted.
Another major issue that discouraged the Blacks’ hopes and expectations were the lack of uniformity among their leadership. Although they had the same purpose of fighting for the equal rights of the Black Americans, they had different perspectives. For example, among the three major Black activists, one was Booker T. Washington, who laid the foundation of Tuskegee Institute of Alabama (1881), argued that Black should create their own opportunities to achieve social and political equality by competing with hard work and education. However, the co-founder of National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP)(1909), demanded the absolute equality of citizenship and voting by involving the legal system and promoted the concept of Pan Africanism (a movement with an aim to encourage and strengthen the bond of solidarity among African descent people). Nevertheless, Jamaican born Marcus Garvey adopted a more radical approach of ”Negro Nationalism” and reasoned that it is difficult to challenge the WASP’s racism. He encouraged that Black should be proud of themselves and their culture and they should stand up for themselves without the White Americans Society’s support and urged the notion of ”Black is Beautiful” and ”Separatism”. Under his leadership, the newspaper named The Negro World (1918) (with the Blacks Self-Help objectives) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (1922) were established. Thus, the strategies and ideologies of these influential civil rights fighters were not mutual. This resulted in disagreement and confusion among the Black civil right communities. At the same time, the Whites were using this weakness in their favour against the Blacks. This left the African Americans with a little or no support that could lead or guide them in their path of achieving equality.
In conclusion, it could be argued that WASP engrained racism led the foundation of racial, social and political discrimination which prevented the African Americans’ quest for equal rights, but it was not the major obstacle. The practices of Jim Crow Laws on both political and non-political grounds also caused great difficulties for the Black. Similarly, that time’s Politicians’ non-serious and unconcerned attitudes towards the solution of these issues were also the backbone of this segregation. This also hindered in their way of achieving their goals. In addition, the extremist activities of KKK such as lynching increased the terror among the blacks and they could not challenge it as these actions were greatly sheltered by political aid. Moreover, the unfair system of sharecropping and tenancy also pushed back the Blacks into never-ending poverty and Blacks were segregated economically as well. Likewise, Black leaders could not agree with each other and that led to confusion and hopelessness among the Blacks community. Therefore, it is apparent that De jure segregation laid by the Federal government of the Supreme court in the form of approval of controversial legislation and making the segregation ”legal” was perhaps the major obstacle preventing African American equality in the 1920s and 1930s.