• From 1867 to 1877, during the period called Reconstruction, Black-White relations were unlike
anything they had ever been. The Reconstruction Act of 1867 put each Southern state under a military
governor until a new state constitution could be written, with Blacks participating fully in the process.
Whites and Blacks married each other, went to public schools and state universities together, and rode
side by side on trains and streetcars.
• In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting the denial of the right to vote on grounds
of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Black men put their vote to good use; Blacks were
elected as six lieutenant governors, sixteen major state officials, twenty members of the house of
representatives, and two U.S. senators. Black officials created new and progressive state constitutions,
and Black political organizations rivaled the church as the focus of community organization.
The Segregation Period
• Reconstruction was ended as part of a political compromise in the election of 1876 and, consequently,
segregation became entrenched in the South by the close of the nineteenth century. The term Jim Crow
became synonymous with segregation and referred to the statutes that kept African Americans in an
inferior position. The Jim Crow Laws assured that blacks were segregated in housing, employment,
education, and all public accommodations. Segregation often preceded laws and in practice often went
beyond their provisions.
• In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that state laws requiring “separate but
equal” accommodations for Blacks were a “reasonable” use of state government power. The
institutionalization of segregation gave White supremacy its ultimate authority.
• It was in the political sphere that the Jim Crow Laws exacted their price the soonest. In 1898, the
Supreme Court ruled in Williams v Mississippi that it was constitutional to use poll taxes, literacy tests,
and residential requirements to discourage Blacks from voting. In Louisiana that year, 130,000 Blacks
were registered to vote; eight years later this number dropped to only 1,342.
• The White primary was another obstacle that forbade Black voting in election primaries. By the turn of
the century, the South had a one-party system, making the primary the significant contest and the
general election a mere rubber stamp. Statewide democratic party primaries were adopted and
explicitly excluded Blacks from voting on the constitutional grounds that since the party was defined as a
private organization, it was free to define its own membership qualifications.
- One restrictive legal device for relegating African Americans to second class status was restrictive
covenants, which were private contracts entered into by neighborhood property owners stipulating that
property could not be sold or rented to certai