The Jim Crow laws – a brief summary

The Jim Crow Laws were created in 1876 simply to segregate black people from the white population. Some English Dictionaries define ‘Jim Crow’ as the name for an implement that can straighten or bend iron rails; or, along with ‘Jim Crowism’, systems or practices of racial discrimination or segregation.  The American English Dictionary suggests that the name only emerged in dictionaries in 1904, but it was clearly used generally in 1876, at least.


The origin of Jim Crow goes back to the 1820s and is credited to a song-and-dance man, Thomas Dartmouth ‘Daddy’ Rice.  He implied that he had seen a limping black slave singing the following verse:

‘Come listen all you galls and boys

I’m going to sing a song

My names is Jim Crow

Weel about and turn around and do jis so,

Eb’ry time I weel about and jump Jim Crow.’

Jim CrowIn 1828 Rice was the first man to blacken his face, dress as a plantation slave and perform such a routine, using his own compositions.  As he gained fame he expanded his repertoire and gradually penned forty-four verses, most of them extremely insensitive.  Indeed, his mockery of black people grew to the extent that his derogatory Jim Crow verses helped deepen the gulf between black and white communities.  In 1838, the Southern States passed various laws of racial segregation, focused against the black sectors.  By the turn of the century those laws were called the Jim Crow laws, both north and south.

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Ralph Abernathy – a brief summary

Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, a grandson of a slave, became a highly respected pioneer who, alongside Martin Luther King, strove for civil rights for African Americans.

Early Years

Ralph AbernathyAbernathy was born on 11 March 1926 in Linden Alabama.  He was one of William L. Abernathy’s twelve children and the family lived on his 500-acre farm.  Well respected, William was the first black man to serve on a grand jury in his county. Ralph attended the Linden Academy, a Baptist school founded by the first Mount Pleasant District Association.  Whilst there he led his first demonstration – protesting against the dire state of the college’s science lab.

Encountering Racism

During World War Two, Ralph Abernathy enlisted in the army. Before the war he had not been aware of the blatant and widespread hostility towards black people and was stunned by the strict black and white segregation. Despite the disadvantage of his skin colour he achieved the rank of Platoon Sergeant; but a bout of rheumatic fever finished his army career. He was given an honourable discharge and a flight back to America.

Higher Education

After the war, Abernathy enrolled at the Alabama State University; where he gained a Science Degree in Mathematics (with honours). Also, he earned a Master of Science Degree in Sociology while building the foundations of the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King, Jr.  His thesis, The Natural History of a Social Movement: The Montgomery Improvement Association, was later published in book form entitled The Walking City-the Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955-1956.  During his studies Abernathy joined the ministry, delivering his first sermon on Mother’s Day, 1948.

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Dred Scott – a summary

Dred Scott was a slave who, through the courts, tried to obtain his and his family’s freedom. Eventually, in 1857, after eleven years of fighting, the US Supreme Court found against him, declaring that as an African descendent he was not an American citizen and therefore could not use the courts to sue for freedom. The decision further widened the gulf between the pro and anti-slavery movements. Less than three years after the decision, the US was at war.

Born in Virginia about 1799, Dred Scott was born a slave and brought up on the St Louis estate of his master, Peter Blow. In 1832, Blow died and Scott was purchased by an army surgeon, Dr John Emerson. In the course of his work, Emerson was posted to various different posts, and each time he took Scott with him. From Missouri, Emerson was posted to Illinois, a free state, then, after a stay of two and a half years, to the Wisconsin Territory, a free territory. It was in Wisconsin that Scott met fellow-slave, Harriet Robinson. Upon their marriage, Robinson also became the property of Dr Emerson. The Scotts were to have two children.

Dred ScottAfter several years away, Emerson, and his new wife, Irene, returned to Missouri, a slave state. Dr Emerson died in 1843, and Scott attempted to buy his freedom from Emerson’s widow, offering her the princely sum of $300. She refused.

Scott v Emerson

Not to be thwarted, in 1847, Dred and Harriet Scott took their case to court, arguing that as they had resided in two free states they, and their children, should be rendered freed from the bonds of servitude. The Scotts lost the case on a technicality but, in 1851, they were allowed a re-trial within the lower court. This time, the court agreed with the Scotts and granted them their freedom. But in 1852, the higher court, the Missouri Supreme Court, overturned the decision. Mrs Emerson moved away from Missouri, leaving her late husband’s estate, including its slaves, to her brother, John F A Sanford.

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The Montgomery Bus Boycott – a summary

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old African American seamstress, seated in a segregated bus, refused to give up her seat to a white man. It sparked the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott and resulted in an early and significant victory for the Civil Rights movement. It brought to national attention a 26-year-old recently appointed Baptist reverend by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Three years earlier, in 1952, the US Supreme Court declared that segregation on interstate railways was unconstitutional, and, two years later, also outlawed segregation on interstate buses. However, the practice was not barred on state-run bus services and persisted in many southern states.

Whites Only

White people entered the bus from the front, black people from the back. If the bus was full, and another white person boarded, then a black person was expected to give up their seat. Martin Luther King described the situation: ‘Negroes (were forced) to stand over empty seats reserved for “whites only”. Even if the bus had no white passengers, and Negroes were packed throughout, they were prohibited from sitting in the front seats.’ Continue reading

Bert Williams – Funny Man

Egbert Austin Williams, who was known as “Bert Williams,” was born on November 12, 1874, and died March 4 1922. He was one of the most well-known entertainers of the Vaudeville era, and made a name for himself as one of the most popular comedians of the time.

One of Williams’s most noteworthy achievements was that he was the best-selling black recording artist before the year 1920. The New York Dramatic Mirror dubbed Williams, “one of the best comedians of the world.”

During his lifetime, Bert Williams played a key role in African American entertainment. Racial inequality was a fact of life and stereotyping was still commonplace in America. That didn’t stop Williams from becoming the first black American entertainer to step into a leading role on Broadway. He was not content with the status quo, and would go on to push back the number of racial barriers during his career. Comedian W.C. Fields once described Bert Williams as “the funniest man I ever saw – and the saddest man I ever knew.”

Early Life

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Oliver Tambo – a summary

Oliver Tambo was born on 27 October 1917 in the Eastern Cape where he attended primary school. He completed his high school education in Johannesburg and went on to study at Fort Hare University where he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in 1941. As a result of joining a student boycott he was expelled and was unable to complete his honours degree.

Programme of Action

Oliver TamboOliver Tambo returned to his high school in Johannesburg as a teacher of science and mathematics and joined the African National Congress (ANC) becoming a founding member of the ANC Youth League. Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and others advocated a spirit of militancy in the ANC, and in 1948 he and Sisulu were elected onto the National Executive Committee of the ANC. This position allowed Tambo to impart impetus to the Youth League’s agenda at the top level of the ANC’s senior body. Tambo served on the committee that drew up the Programme of Action which was adopted as ANC policy in 1949. The Programme of Action included civil disobedience, strikes and other forms of non-violent resistance.

Soon after the adoption of the Programme of Action Tambo left his teaching post and set up a legal partnership with Nelson Mandela, forming the first black law firm in the country.

Campaign of Defiance

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The Mau Mau Uprising – a summary

Finally, half a century on, Kenyans tortured by the British colonial authorities during the Mau Mau Uprising will receive payouts totalling £20m, Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced today, 6 June 2013. The High Court had previously rejected the British government’s claim that too much time had passed for there to be a fair trial. But what was the Mau Mau Uprising? Here, Rupert Colley offers a brief summary.

After the Second World War, Britain had begun the difficult and lengthy process of decolonisation. In African countries that were entirely black in population, such as Ghana, the process was relatively straightforward. Where it was more difficult were the nations that had sizeable population of white settlers. Rhodesia being an example of this latter category, as was Kenya.

The Crown Colony

Kenya’s official association with Britain had started in 1895, when the country became British East Africa. The British government encouraged the settlement of Kenya’s fertile highlands by Europeans, utilising the labour of the very peoples they had dispossessed, such as the traditional tribes of the Kikuyu. In 1920, British East Africa became an official crown colony of the British Empire, renamed the Colony of Kenya. The white settlers were given preference in all spheres of politics, administration and society, and Africans were barred from political involvement until 1944 when a small number were appointed (not elected) onto the legislature.

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Sweatt v Painter

The Sweatt v Painter case of 1950 is an important but often overlooked landmark in the progress of the Civil Rights Movement in the US, writes Angelita Williams.

Sweatt v Painter

In February 1946, Heman Sweatt, a young African-American mail carrier, applied for admission to the University of Texas’ School of Law. Upon reviewing the young man’s application, the school refused admission on the grounds that Texas schools prohibited integrated education. Despite the fact that much of the nation already embraced integration, states in the Deep South – including Texas and Alabama – had resisted integration. Using the “separate but equal” doctrine established by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case, states were allowed to resist racial integration as long as the separate facilities they created for African Americans were of – you guessed it – equal condition.

Sweatt and his lawyer Thurgood Marshall challenged the UT School of Law in 1950, saying that the law school UT considered equal to theirs – the Texas State University for Negroes – was in no shape or form equal to the University of Texas’ School of Law, given that the UT Law School had 16 full-time professors and the Texas State University for Negroes only had 5 full-time professors; the UT Law School had 850 students and a 65,000-volume law library, while the Texas State University for Negroes only had 23 students and a 16,500-volume library; and the University of Texas Law School had many graduates working in public and private law practice, while the Texas State University for Negroes only had one graduate admitted to the Texas Bar Association.

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Poetry of Maya Angelou – the Power of Sincere Word

American author Maya Angelou has been referred to as “America’s most visible black autobiographer” by Joanne M. Braxton. Born April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, Angelou had what can only be described as a difficult childhood.

She spent time being moved between her mother and her grandmother’s homes, and was raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was eight years old. The trauma of this event caused the little girl to become mute for almost six years, and she gave birth to a son, Guy, when she was just 16 years old.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou’s first published volume of poetry, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, includes a work by the same name, which includes the following:

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Malcolm X’s Influence on the Black Panther Party’s Philosophy

The Black Panther Party, founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, was based on ideas such as black nationalism and a staunch belief in the necessity of violence and armed self-defence in order to obtain freedom from white oppression – ideas which are strongly associated with Malcolm X’s life work.

Following Malcolm X‘s assassination in 1965, it has been suggested by some historians that the Black Panther Party used his philosophy of gaining freedom “by any means necessary” both as a justification of their methods and as a means of inspiring other African Americans to join their cause. Although Huey Newton later stressed in his autobiography a belief that the party had not done things the way that Malcolm X would have done them had he lived beyond 1965, the fact that Malcolm X had a huge influence on the philosophy of the party is virtually indisputable.

Bobby Seale

It is also clear is that Malcolm X had a strong influence on the individual, personal philosophies of key Black Panther members, especially the two founding members. Both Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale were drawn in by Malcolm’s speeches and agreed with many of the revolutionary ideas he expressed within them. Bobby Seale wrote about listening to Malcolm X’s speeches, proclaiming him to be “a better speaker than even Martin Luther King.” He went on to name his son Malik Nkrumah Stagolee Seale, later explaining “Malik” was “for Malcolm X”. After Malcolm’s death, Seale wrote that he “cried like a baby” and announced soon afterwards: “I will make my own self into a motherf**king Malcolm X…they’ll have to kill me!” In the process, Seale made clear the extent to which Malcolm X had influenced his beliefs.

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