There are several terms that are important to the Black Civil Rights Movement during the past 220 years. We’ve split them up into three sections: 19th Century- The American Civil War and Reconstruction Period, Post Reconstruction through the Black Civil Rights Movement, and Specific Organizations of the Civil Rights Movements.
Racism is prejudice based on the belief that people belong to different human races. That these races have different inherent characteristics and capacities. Racism implies a belief that certain races are naturally superior to others. Racism can be on an individual basis. This is prejudice against another person based their ethnicity (race). It can result from political, economic, or social institutions that were founded on racist principles (Institutionalized Racism).
19th Century Black Civil Rights prior to the American Civil War.
Blackface, (or Blackface Minstrelsy) a racist entertainment popular in the 19th century United States. The traveling performances were caricatures of black culture, including music and dance. The performers wore tattered clothing and blackened their faces with burnt cork or shoe polish. They acted out negative black stereotypes for the amusement of white audiences. They portrayed Blacks as lazy, cowardly, ignorant, and hypersexual. Jim Crow remains one of the most popular of the blackface characters. That character is where the name came from for Jim Crow Laws.
Lynching is the deliberate killing of someone without a trial as punishment for some percieved infraction, usually by hanging. Lynching originated in the American Western frontier as a form of vigilanti justice in the early 19th century. On the frontier, the combination of a weak or non-existent government authority and an emphasis on individualism resulted in widespread support for vigilantism.
By the middle of the 19th century, however, lynching became increasingly racially motivated, especially in the American South. White supremacists used the threat of lynching to terrorize and control the black population. 70% of the victims lynched were black. Other minorities and whites who opposed lynchings or aided blacks were also victims of lynching. Between 1877 and 1950, over 4,000 people were lynched in the United States by this type of mob violence. The majority of them in the American South.
While white mobs often used the accusation of rape to justify the murders. The victims were often political activists and blacks deemed insufficiently deferential to whites. As time moved forward post Civil War, whites used lynching to prevent blacks from voting and to reinforce segregation.
The Underground Railroad started in the 18th Century and continued into the Civil War.
The Underground Railroad, a network of abolitionists, helped slaves escape to freedom. Beginning in the early 18th century. They assisted slaves with fleeing the South of the United States to the North, where slavery wasn’t legal. After a series of Fugitive Slave Acts that made it possible to return slaves that had made it North, the Underground Railroad extended up into Canada. There, the slave hunters could no longer reach them.
People called conductors, such as Harriet Tubman, guided the fugitives North. Safe hiding places, called stations, included private homes, churches, and schools. Station Masters ran the stations, hiding the escaping slaves. While whites participated in the Underground Railroad, the majority of the people most active in helping the escaping slaves were free blacks and former slaves like Tubman. Helping escaping slaves was illegal and carried stiff penalties including heavy fines, jail time, and even branding.
White supremacy is the fundamental belief that whites are both biologically and culturally superior to blacks, indigenous peoples, Jewish people, and other people of color. This belief, in the 19th century, was the basis for the “White Man’s Burden” to bring civilization to non-white, non-Western European people through coloniziation and imperialism. The United States used it to justify the Western expansion, the treatment of Native Americans, and the slavery of blacks.
After the Civil War ended, white supremacists used a combination of Jim Crow Laws and terrorist organizations such as the KKK to maintain white domination over blacks and other minorities. Today white supremacy can be found in White Nationalism. It was created in response to the Black Power Movement. It is also prominent in violent hate groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis.
19th Century Black Civil Rights used during the American Civil War
Ku Klux Klan (KKK) a white supremacist organization founded originally in 1865. It opposed the Republican governments imposed on the South by the federal government. Members, often disguised in white robes and wearing white hoods that hid their faces, used terrorist tactics on black voters and leaders.
The 1915 revival of the KKK expanded the hate group’s focus to include Catholics, Jewish people, organized labor, and foreigners. In the 1950s, the KKK revived in response to the Civil Rights Movements. They targeted African American community centers, such as churches, as well as both white and black civil rights activists. They sought to stop the Civil Rights Movement with terror, including bombings, beatings, and murder. The KKK still exists today, often affiliated with Neo-Nazis and other white supremacist organizations.
Poll Tax is a fee that a person must pay in order to be eligible to vote. Historically, the government used poll taxes to raise funds for the government. In the late 19th century United States, however, governments used poll taxes to prevent black Americans from voting. Southern blacks, who after slavery remained incredibly poor, were largely unable to pay the fees and so unable to vote.
Poll Taxes theoretically applied equally for both white and black voters. When combined with grandfather clauses that allowed poor whites to vote without paying the poll tax, they effectively prevented blacks from voting. The twenty-fourth Amendment, passed in 1964, made poll taxes unconstitutional.
19th Century Black Civil Rights created or used post American Civil War.
Black Codes – laws put in place shortly after the American Civil War ended in 1865. They were used to govern the black population. Some of these codes granted blacks limited civil rights, such as the right to marry or own property. Many of them restricted their rights and ensured that they would remain an inexpensive workforce. This included denying them the right to testify against a white person, to sit on a jury, and to vote. The federal government repealed these codes during the Reconstruction Era. Unfortunately, they returned after Reconstruction ended in the form of Jim Crow Laws.
Grandfather Clause, today, is a legal term that says that people who already operated under an old rule can continue to do so even after a new rule has been implemented. The term originated in the 19th century United States when states passed laws intended to prohibit blacks from voting. They couldn’t explicitly write a law saying “blacks can’t vote”. Instead they wrote laws saying that if you could vote before 1870 or if your ancestors could vote before 1870, you could vote. While in theory it applied evenly for everyone, it effectively prevented blacks from being able to vote in those states.
Jim Crow Laws – laws passed in the Southern United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They deliberately limited blacks both economically and politically. The term Jim Crow came from a popular Blackface character in the late 19th century. These laws made it difficult for blacks to register to vote. They required them to pay poll taxes or to pass literacy tests. Jim Crow laws also prevented blacks from sitting on juries and testifying against whites. Segregation laws required blacks to live in different neighborhoods, go to different schools, and to patronize different businesses.
Reconstruction sought to reintegrate the separatist Southern states back into the American Union.
Following the American Civil War, the Reconstruction period began. It was also a time when the federal government attempted to help the newly freed slaves transition to freedom. During Reconstruction, blacks gained a number of rights, including the right to vote, and some even served in congress.
Reconstruction began on 3 December 1963 with President Lincoln’s 10 Percent Plan. This plan was unpopular with many Northern Republicans, who wanted stricter penalties on the South. In the 1866 election, after Lincoln’s assassination on 14 April 1865 the Republicans won a 2/3rds majority. Congress then established federal control over the South that lasted until 1877.
This was a highly contentious time period. Many white southerners resented Northern interference in what they saw as their state’s right for self-determination. They also resented the ending of the slavery that had been an important part of their economy. To fight back, the Southern States passed state legislation, called the Black Codes. These limited control by the black population. They were forced to continue working the plantations.
While the Southern states were eventually reintegrated, reconstruction failed at addressing the problems that had led to the Civil War in the first place. It also failed at significantly improving the life of Southern blacks.
Segregation – Segregation is the separation of people in their daily lives based on race.
- De facto segregation, “segregation in fact”, – that racial groups are separated through practice rather than by laws. Blacks tend to live in mostly black neighborhoods. Their children often attended primarily black schools and that local businesses were owned by blacks. White families, on the other hand, live in primarily white neighborhoods. Thus their kids might attend primarily white schools, and local businesses are mostly owned by whites. This is the result of the long history of racial relationships. It is a lot harder to address than de jure, but it is slowly changing in the United States.
- De jure segregation, “segregation by law”, is the legal separation of racial groups, most commonly whites and blacks. Jim Crow Laws made it illegal for blacks to live in the same communities as whites. They were not allowed to attend the same schools, or use the same restrooms, restaurants, buses, and other facilities and businesses. The Supreme court ruled in 1954 that de jure segregation in the United States was unconstitutional in the court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
While we are certain we have not covered everything. We hope that these comprehensive lists give you a better foundation for understanding the terms and more importantly, the situations behind the Black Civil Rights Movement.
The Researcher’s Gateway team.