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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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

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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Black History: History in an Hour

History for busy people. Black History, or African-American History, looks at the story and culture of black Americans from the seventeenth century to the present day.

Encompassing everything from immigration to civil war, emancipation, slavery and migration, Black History in an Hour gives you a neat overview of this vast and fascinating subject.

This book is a superb introduction to the powerful varied history of African Americans. The study of Black History in the West has to be seen primarily in the context of American history. It was in the USA, where all men are created equal, that slavery and the fight for civil rights had its most profound effect.

Love your history? Find out about the world with History in an Hour…

Only 99p. Buy now from iTunesAmazonB&N and other online stores.

Also available as an audio download and an app for the iPhone / iPad


  • Slavery: the “peculiar institution” 
  • The Black Slave: three-fifths the man
  • North and South: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong” 
  • War and emancipation: “Previous condition of servitude”
  • The Jim Crow Era: “Separate but equal”
  • War, Migration and depression: “Black is beautiful”
  • War and Windrush: “To secure these rights”
  • The Civil Rights movement 1“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”
  • The Civil Rights Movement 2: “Burn, burn, burn”
  • Black Power: “We gonna stop them white men from whuppin’ us” 
  • Britain and South Africa: “Rivers of blood”
  • Forty years later: “Because of the color of her skin”

Reader reviews:

“Hard to believe anyone could cover black history in an hour… But History In An Hour does a great job!”

“Perfect History Lesson’s For People On The Go!  I really enjoyed Rupert Colley’s audio book collections of History in an Hour. They teach me so much, and for a busy person like me on the go, it works out great to pick up such informative information of things that I thought that I already knew. 

This audio book, Black History: History in an Hour, really ‘hit the spot’ and reminded me of things that I already knew, but at the same time helped me to learn a couple of new things too. 

I highly recommend the whole series of “History in an Hour” audio books. 

It would make perfect classroom teaching too!” Audio review

“I stumbled upon a tweet mentioning slavery and I clicked the link which led me to the iTunes store. I bought it and read it… Bought another and another and another… Get it now!

“This is a compelling read.”

“For an hour’s read I thought this was perfect. You can’t cover everything in an hour so given that constraint this is an excellent intro. Very good writing too.”

Excellent. Must use it as part of my teaching :)”

“The book was true to its title. It took me about an hour to read. It contained a number of key facts, but it left me wanting more depth, more detail. Still, I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Black History, and wants a basic introductory grounding.”

“The History in an Hour series continues to turn out high quality books that grab the attention and spark interest in very diverse subjects.  And so it is with ‘Black History’. The book is in the familiar History in an Hour format with a couple of pages of introduction, the main narrative peppered with illustrations, short biographies of all the major characters involved and finally a chronology of events.  With a short book some events that happened over years are covered in a couple of brief paragraphs yet there is still time for detailed facts which can illustrate with fascinating facts. I was amazed to read that London in 1760 had a population that was 3-6% Black and after the War of Independence the British helped 4,000 Black people escape to Canada and Britain who had fought on the Royalist side. The gas mask of WW1 was invented by a Black man, it was not until 1967 the US Supreme Court ruled against laws banning inter-racial marriage which was the same year the first Black US mayors were elected.  This book introduces the reader to a long list of historical figures who were well ahead of their time yet managed to out manoeuvre the laws and values of the times in which they lived that may of otherwise constrained others, concluding with the election of Barack Obama in 2008.  For the purposes of this book ‘Black History’ primarily relates to the struggle for equality in the face of adversity and ignorance which means a lot of the book revolves around the Black experience of the Caribbean and the United States with the familiar supporting stories of the European abolition movement but not leaving out other facts such as Denmark and Norway being the first countries to outlaw slavery in 1803. There is much more to Black history but that will be another book; can Harper Press produce “African History in an Hour”? ‘Black History’ is the subject name but it is also part of the history of all of our forefathers who as perpetrators, victims or improvers all have their footnote in history. This should be read in conjunction with two other History in an Hour books: American Slavery: History in an Hour and The American Civil War: History in an Hour

“This is a great way to understand the basics of black history and the civil rights movement. An excellent read.”

The 16th Street Baptist church bombing

During the first two weeks of September 1963 the Civil Rights movement in the US was feeling confident – they had hope, hope that change, real change, was in the air. They had on their side President Kennedy; the Civil Rights bill had every chance of becoming law and, in Dr Martin Luther King, Jnr, they had a leader capable of stirring the conscience within every strata of society, from government to the common man.

The March on Washington

Only days before, on 28 August, 250,000 Americans had demonstrated their solidarity for the movement by taking part in the March on Washington. Black and white, rich and poor, young and old, swayed in time as Bob Dylan sung Blowin’ In The Wind and Joan Baez led the singing of We Shall Overcome. Then they intently listened as King, surrounded by a bank of microphones, spoke of his dream.

The bombing

But then on Sunday morning, the 15 September 1963, four white men, members of the Ku Klux Klan, planted a bomb consisting of dynamite beneath a Baptist church on Sixteenth Street in Birmingham, Alabama.

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The Assassination of Martin Luther King – a summary

On April 4, in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. James Earl Ray, a white supremacist, was subsequently arrested for the crime and convicted to 99 years in jail.

On April 3, 1968, on his way to Memphis, Tennessee, Martin Luther King’s plane was delayed by a bomb threat. But that evening, having duly arrived in Memphis, King delivered what would be his last speech, known as the “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech, from within the Mason Temple, headquarters of the Pentecostal ‘Church of God in Christ’. Outside a thunderstorm blew up as King addressed his enthusiastic audience: “I have been to the mountain top and I have seen the Promised Land… And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

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Malcolm X: a brief summary

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on 19 May 1925, the fourth of eight children. The family lived in Omaha in Nebraska where his father, a Baptist minister, Earl Little, was a prominent member of the local branch of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and an ardent supporter of Marcus Garvey. Rev Little’s prominence brought the unwanted attention of the local Ku Klux Klan. Such was the level of harassment, the family moved to the town of East Lansing in the state of Michigan. It was 1929; Malcolm was four years old. There, unfortunately, the harassment was, if anything, worse. Soon after moving into their new home, the house was set on fire. Malcolm later recalled, bitterly, how fire fighters arrived on the scene but, on seeing that it was a black family, refused to help.

Malcolm XIn 1931, Malcolm’s father died in mysterious circumstances, run over by a streetcar. Although it was never proved, the suspicion remained that he had been killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The police recorded the death as suicide, thereby annulling Earl Little’s life insurance.

Malcolm Little

Left poverty-stricken, Malcolm’s mother struggled to make ends meet for her large family. The pressure took its toll and in 1937, six years after her husband’s death, she was committed to an asylum. The children were farmed out to various foster parents and homes. Malcolm went to school where a teacher asked the vulnerable Malcolm what he wanted to be. Malcolm answered, a lawyer. The teacher scoffed, told him to be realistic and recommended, instead, he become a carpenter. Disillusioned, he dropped out of school at the age of 15 and went to Boston to live with his older half-sister, Ella.

Detroit Red

From Boston, Malcolm moved to the Harlem district of New York City where he got a job as a shoeshine boy. Called “Detroit Red” for the reddish hint in his hair, he drifted into a life of petty crime, involving robbery and drug selling. He lived well off the proceeds but in 1946, following a failed robbery, Malcolm was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Whilst incarcerated he spent much of his time reading in the prison library, obtaining the education he felt was lacking in his life. He converted to Islam and became a member of the Nation of Islam, or the Black Muslims. Founded by Elijah Muhammad, the self-proclaimed Messenger of Allah, the Black Muslims rejected Christianity as a white man’s religion and preached separation of the races.

Malcolm X

Having served six years, Malcolm was released from prison in 1952. He moved to Chicago and founded (or took over – resources differ on this point) the Nation’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, which espoused racially controversial views about the natural superiority of blacks. Malcolm, having shed his “slave name”, advocated black separatism and the use of violence, if necessary, to achieve it. America’s blacks, he said, were in the midst of a revolution and there was “no such thing as a non-violent revolution”. Air time on national television brought him immediate fame, or notoriety. His preaching drew new converts and his charismatic style appealed to much of America’s black youth.

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Malcolm X and ML KingDescribing himself as the “angriest black man in America”, Malcolm rejected Martin Luther King‘s non-confrontational approach and mocked King’s March on Washington (August 1963). Achieving integration through non-violence and, as Malcolm saw it, long-term suffering, would not progress the African American’s place in society. Instead, Malcolm preached independence, black power and black consciousness, a message that had widespread appeal. The Civil Rights Movement had, in Malcolm’s view, “begged the white man for freedom”, and begging for freedom did not, he continued, set you free. “The price of freedom is death”.

(The six foot, 3 inches tall, Malcolm  X and Martin Luther King, Jr met just the once, pictured, in March 1964).

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz

Elijah Muhammad, impressed by Malcolm’s undoubted abilities, named him his second-in-command. Although the two men argued over the direction of the organization, Malcolm saw Muhammad as a mentor and a spiritual guide, and perhaps even a father-figure. But Muhammad’s private life failed to match his public persona as a man beyond reproach. Malcolm was left feeling betrayed when he learnt that Muhammad had fathered six children with different women. Their relationship deteriorated further when, following the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, Malcolm said it was a case of “chickens coming to roost”. Malcolm was ordered to observe a 90-day period of silence. Refusing to comply, in March 1964 Malcolm left the Nation of Islam and founded his own Islamic group, the Muslim Mosque, Inc. In 1965 he formed the secular group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

Malcolm embarked on a tour of Africa and the Middle East, paid a pilgrimage to Mecca, and, having changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, converted to the Sunni branch of Islam. He returned to the US a more moderate man: “I recognize that anger can blind a man”, he later said.

Assassination of Malcolm X

Having left the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X received numerous death threats. In 1964, Elijah Muhammad said that “hypocrites like Malcolm should have their heads cut off”. Indeed, an edition of Muhammad Speaks that year featured a cartoon of Malcolm X’s decapitated head. On 14 February 1965, Malcolm’s family home in New York was firebombed. He firmly believed that those responsible were members of the Nation of Islam.

A week later, on 21 February, as he was about to deliver a lecture at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, Malcolm was shot fifteen times and killed. He was three months short of his fortieth birthday. Three of Elijah Muhammad’s followers were later found guilty of the murder. The last of the three, Talmadge Hayer, having served 45 years in jail and having been refused parole sixteen times, was released from prison in 2010.

Elijah Muhammad, on hearing of Malcolm’s death, said, “Malcolm X got just what he preached… We know such ignorant, foolish teachings would bring him to his own end”.

In 1958, Malcolm had married Betty Shabazz, who, like Malcolm, called herself ‘X’. They were to have six daughters, the youngest two, twins, born after Malcolm’s assassination. On 1 June 1997, Betty’s home was set on fire by her 12-year-old grandson, Malcolm Shabazz. Three weeks later, she died of her injuries. Shabazz, who spent four years in a juvenile detention centre, immediately expressed his remorse. Shabazz himself was murdered in Mexico City on 9 May 2013. He was 28.

Malcolm’s Autobiography of Malcolm X, dictated to Alex Haley and written over two years, was published soon after his death, and remains a cult hit.

Black History in an hour2Rupert Colley

See also article on Malcolm X’s influence on the philosophy of the Black Panther movement.

Read more in Black History: History In An Hour published by Harper Press and available in various digital formats and audio.



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The Civil Rights Movement – a summary

A summary of the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in the US

Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

In May 1954, following the Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case, the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. Oliver Brown, a father of a school-aged child, challenged the law that stated he had to send his daughter to an all-black school much further away than the local, all-white school. The Supreme Court agreed and concluded: “In the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place” referring to and overturning the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case that had permitted separate but equal facilities.

But with no fixed timetable, and with the Southern states in no hurry to implement the ruling, the court was obliged to follow up, a year later, with an order that schools must integrate “with all deliberate speed”. School buses ‘bussed’ school children sometimes considerable distances to ensure integration and 15 years later, in 1969, the Supreme Court had to intervene again when many schools had still to desegregate.

(See also article on the Sweatt v Painter case, 1950).

Emmett Till

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