One result of legalized racism in America was this strange limit, which helped teach kids the rules of a segregated society
By custom rather than by law, black folks were best off if they weren’t caught eating vanilla ice cream in public in the Jim Crow South, except – the narrative always stipulates – on the Fourth of July. I heard it from my father growing up myself, and the memory of that all-but-unspoken rule seems to be unique to the generation born between World War I and World War II.
But if Maya Angelou hadn’t said it in her classic autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I doubt anybody would believe it today.
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Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States. These laws were enacted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by white Southern Democrat-dominated state legislatures to disenfranchise and remove political and economic gains made by black people during the Reconstruction period. The Jim Crow laws were enforced until 1965.
In practice, Jim Crow laws mandated racial segregation in all public facilities in the states of the former Confederate States of America and in some others, beginning in the 1870s. Jim Crow laws were upheld in 1896 in the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson, in which the U.S. Supreme Court laid out its “separate but equal” legal doctrine for facilities for African Americans. Moreover, public education had essentially been segregated since its establishment in most of the South after the Civil War in 1861–65.
The legal principle of “separate but equal” racial segregation was extended to public facilities and transportation, including the coaches of interstate trains and buses. Facilities for African Americans were consistently inferior and underfunded compared to facilities for white Americans; sometimes, there were no facilities for the black community. As a body of law, Jim Crow institutionalized economic, educational, and social disadvantages for African Americans living in the South.
Jim Crow laws and Jim Crow state constitutional provisions mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, and public transportation, and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains between white and black people. The U.S. military was already segregated. President Woodrow Wilson, a Southern Democrat, initiated the segregation of federal workplaces in 1913.
In 1954, segregation of public schools (state-sponsored) was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education. In some states, it took many years to implement this decision, while the Warren Court continued to rule against the Jim Crow laws in other cases such as Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964). Generally, the remaining Jim Crow laws were overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.