Ageless Jim Crows

Ed Raymond

How Long Is The Civil War Going To Last?

The American Civil War officially ended slavery in 1865 and supposedly freed  the slaves. But what has happened in the 150 years since then has not accomplished either. The new voter suppression laws being passed by white Republican legislatures across the country under the guise these laws will eliminate voter fraud are actually beginning the Fifth Jim Crow period since slavery began in the 1600’s. Jim Crow #1 started when slavery became the biggest economic lever in the South, and it lasted until shortly after the Civil War. President Rutherford B. Hayes was elected in 1876 by Southern voters and in payment his presidency destroyed Reconstruction laws and policies that essentially ended all legal protection of blacks who were citizens now but were former slaves. Most blacks still couldn’t vote and the racism of a slave state was continued with brutal lynchings by white “religious” Klu Klux Klanners.

Jim Crow #2 started with the end of Reconstruction and ended about 90 years later with the beginning of President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs. I had many direct experiences with Jim Crow laws and customs while serving in the Marine Corps at Parris Island, South Carolina and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina over a period of six years from 1951 to 1957. I have often written about my black decorated Korean War combat veterans who had to walk in the streets instead of on the sidewalks in Jacksonville, North Carolina. This was the Jim Crow period that saw the development of the Ku Klux Klan and the murder of blacks by lynching—often cheered on by thousands of whites on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the local park. About 250 Jim Crow laws were passed by Southern cities and legislatures in this period to keep the races separate.

Some Examples Of Jim Crow Laws

In 1930 Birmingham, Alabama, the site of many civil rights battles in the 1960’s, passed this ordinance: “It shall be unlawful for a negro and a white person to play together or in the company with each other in any game of cards or dice.” In 1911 Nebraska passed this law: “Marriages are void when one party is a white person and the other is possessed of one-eighth or more negro, Japanese, or Chinese blood.” In 1929 Missouri established segregated schools: “Separate free schools shall be established for the education of children of African descent; and it shall be unlawful for any colored child to attend any white school, or any white child to attend a colored school.” In 1891 Tennessee passed laws governing transportation: “All railroads carrying passengers in the state (other than street railroads) shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races, by providing two or more passenger cars for each passenger train, or by dividing the cars by a partition, so as to secure separate accommodations.” 

Many communities across the country had property owners sign restrictive covenants barring blacks and sometimes other groups—including Jews, Asians, and Latinos-from buying in many neighborhoods. In the 1940’s Arlington County, Virginia real estate purchasers had to agree never to sell their property to “persons of any race other than the white Caucasian race.”

From 1866 to the 1950’s Kentucky passed dozens of Jim Crow laws. Circuses, shows, and tent exhibitions were required to have two ticket offices with individual ticker sellers and two entrances to the performance for each race. Whites and blacks had to buy and consume booze in two completely separate locations. Jails, prisons, municipal offices, and other public offices had to be segregated. The list goes on and on.

Jim Crow #3—Richard Nixon’s War On Drugs And Blacks

Before the presidential campaign in 1968, Richard Nixon wanted to neutralize the vote of the Democratic anti-war left and blacks. Nixon aide John Ehrlichman admitted the administration’s policies many years later: “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

How did Nixon develop Jim Crow #3? Crack, a derivative of cocaine, was a drug used and sold by blacks in city ghettoes. Cocaine, the favorite drug of white suburbanites, was also sold downtown by drug dealers, both white and black. But here’s the difference. Five grams of crack would get a black five years in jail. Five hundred grams of cocaine would get a white five years in jail. This is how Nixon filled the prisons with blacks by utilizing 20-year sentences. In jail they couldn’t vote. This was often called the 100-1 sentencing program. Now blacks represent 33% of the prisoners in prisons, county jails, and “criminals” on probation in the U.S.—while blacks are only 12% of our total population. In 2000 George W. Bush won Florida by 537 votes. Over 90,000 black Floridians could not vote because they had committed felonies. In some northern cities felons can vote even while they are in prison. The states have made a real mess of our voting laws. A dark mission accomplished by whites to fulfill Jim Crow #3.

Jim Crow #4 and Jim Crow #5  Involve Voting Rights And Lynching By Firearms

The shock experienced by whites at the election of half-white Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States developed into the suppression of voting rights in Jim Crow #5. But after the 1964 civil rights laws and the voting rights laws passed in 1966, blacks actually gained some semblance of voting rights, But these laws created Jim Crow #4 all over the United States. This was the era of voter intimidation. Black polling places in the South always seemed to have white police cars parked out front. Black precincts always ran out of voting materials, were always short of voting machines, always shut down at closing times regardless of the number of black voters in line, and the number of early voting days was dramatically reduced. Precincts were closed or moved for every election. Same-day registration of all voters was also stopped. In the European Union governments are required to register voters. County voting officials sometimes mailed out the notices of an election---with the wrong date. Thousands of names mysteriously disappeared from voting rolls. Some states required birth certificates when registering to vote. Many poor blacks were midwifed at home and certificates of birth were never issued! Five percent of Americans do not have birth certificates. States banned felons from ever voting again—even after serving their sentences. In 2016 6.1 million were denied the vote because of felonies. There are hundreds of ways to suppress the vote of  minorities. In 2016 an estimated 16 million had serious problems voting. Joseph Stalin, who always managed to get 100% of the vote, expressed this thought: “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who COUNT the votes decide everything.”

Let’s move on to Jim Crow #5, probably the white man’s last gasp for power in the United States. The Republicans have become the White Party, with King Donald garnering 58% of the white vote in 2016. The Voting Rights Act passed by Democrats and signed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson 52 years ago this June was to ensure that  minorities would not face racial discrimination entering the voting booth. But the U.S. Supreme Court Republicans in 2013 under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts decided 31 states that had a 150-year record of voter suppression no longer had to get permission from the federal government to modify their voting laws. Justice Roberts said that such supervision was not needed because states didn’t discriminate! The election of Obama proved it! This proves that Roberts and his Republican colleagues live on some other planet and report to Planet Earth only during working hours—and don’t watch TV or read newspapers and magazines. Jim Crow #5 has a new plan to disenfranchise poor voters. If you owe money because of court fines, traffic fines, and other legal fees such as victim restitution, you cannot vote until such fees are all paid. Nine Republican states have passed that law. Alabama has 100,000 poor people who owe money to various city departments who can’t vote. This voter suppression process affects minorities more and is going to be challenged in court as being a poll tax. Poll taxes are illegal. As one lawyer put it: “Rich people can buy the right to vote. Poor people can’t.”

When Will Americans Be Equal? Maybe After Jim Crow #6? Or Jim Crow #9?

My favorite black poet Langston Hughes lived during the 90 years of Jim Crow #2, publishing his poem “Let America Be American” in 1936. (Does that title remind you of a certain campaign slogan?) This is just one stanza of his epic poem:

“There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free.’
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart. I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek-
And finding only the same old stupid plan of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.”

After Justice Roberts insisted racism was dead in America and wrote the Republican majority opinion in destroying the Voting Rights Act, Republican legislatures and governors  leaped into action, passing hundreds of voter suppression laws. Ten states-Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia-passed complicated Voter ID laws designed to suppress minority voting. A few have been challenged in court, some have been ruled unconstitutional. One simple fact: blacks, Latinos, Indians, and the poor often live far from ID-issuing offices and lack the transportation and funds to travel to state ID centers. Voter IDs are only one effort to turn America back into an all-white gated community.

Computer gerrymandering has virtually destroyed the idea of one-man, one-vote. There are hundreds of examples. Wisconsin over a century has been a purple state, well-balanced politically between the two parties. Out of 99 seats in the House of Representatives Republicans control 63 of the seats by gerrymandering the state from the 2010 election. In Ohio with almost equal voting totals, Republicans have 12 U.S. House seats compared to four for the Democrats. Again, the U.S. Supreme Court ducked a challenge to Wisconsin gerrymandering by sending the case back to a federal court because of “procedural faults.” Roberts, again traveling from Fantasy Planet to Planet Earth, wrote that the case was flawed because it was about “group political interests not individual legal rights.” That’s BS from the top. The Republican-dominated court actually decided that the Republicans had a better chance to win the 2018 elections if they left gerrymandering as passed by Republican legislatures.

The Supreme Court has also extended the evils of Jim Crow #5 by approving the purging of 1.2 million minority voters from Ohio voting rolls. Six other states use similar purging practices to “clean up” voting rolls. Perhaps we are now entering the battles of Jim Crow #6. When will the Civil War really end?