In 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation symbolically established a national intent to eradicate slavery in the United States. Decades of state and federal legislation around civil rights followed. In January of 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially abolished slavery in this country, while the 14th Amendment, passed in 1866, set forth three principles:
● All persons born or naturalized in the U.S. were citizens for the nation and no state could make or enforce any law that would abridge their rights of citizenship.
● No state could deny any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.
● No state could deny any person equal protection of the laws.
Finally, the 15th Amendment, passed in 1869, outlawed the denial of voting rights due to race, color, or past servitude.
However, immediately after the Civil War ended, some states began imposing restrictions on the daily lives of African Americans, whether they were survivors of slavery or had always been free. By the end of the 19th century, laws or informal practices that required that African Americans be segregated from whites were often called Jim Crow practices, believed to be a reference to a minstrel-show song, "Jump Jim Crow."
With the Compromise of 1877, political power was returned to Southern whites in nearly every state of the former Confederacy. The federal government abandoned attempts to enforce the 14th and 15th amendments in many parts of the country. By 1890, when Mississippi added a disfranchisement provision to its state constitution, the legalization of Jim Crow had begun.
Jim Crow was not enacted as a universal, written law of the land. Instead, a patchwork of state and local laws, codes, and agreements enforced segregation to different degrees and in different ways across the nation. In many towns and cities, ordinances designated white and black neighborhoods, while in others covenants and unwritten agreements among real estate interests maintained residential segregation. African Americans were denied the right to vote by onerous poll taxes, unfairly applied tests, and other unjust barriers. The signs we associate today with Jim Crow – "Whites Only," "Colored"– appeared at bus stations, water fountains and rest rooms, as well as at the entrances and exits to public buildings. Hotels, movie theaters, arenas, night clubs, restaurants, churches, hospitals, and schools were segregated, and interracial marriages outlawed. Segregation was not limited to African Americans, but often applied to other non-white Americans.