Jim Crow Laws in To Kill a Mockingbird

Jim Crow Laws in To Kill a Mockingbird
Coming up next: A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul: Themes & Quotes

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:04 Jim Crow Laws
  • 1:32 Examples of Jim Crow Laws
  • 2:54 Influences in the Novel
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Garrett

Sarah has taught secondary English and holds a master's degree in Curriculum & Instruction

In this lesson, we will discuss the Jim Crow laws and how these laws affect the novel 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. Having knowledge of these laws will help greatly in understanding the novel.

Jim Crow Laws

Can you imagine never being able to associate with anyone except your own race? What about knowing you would never have a fair trial in court, or restitution if something you had was stolen or defiled? What about being scared for your life if you accidentally offended a white person? These were the harsh realities of the Jim Crow Era, which lasted for almost 100 years after Reconstruction. Having a basic knowledge of this era and the Jim Crow laws is essential for understanding the racial divide in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

The name Jim Crow came from a song written by Thomas Dartmouth ''Daddy'' Rice, a white man. As a struggling actor, he heard another black person singing a song about a man named Jim Crow. After this, Rice decided to take on a highly exaggerated and stereotypical black stage persona and call himself Jim Crow. He darkened his skin and began performing all over the country. The term Jim Crow soon became synonymous with black laws that oppressed black people.

To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930s, which was a time of staunch racism. Many Southern states operated under the Jim Crow laws, which governed how people of different races were allowed to interact in life and social situations. These laws subjugated black people and made them live lives that were separate from white people, also known as segregation.

Examples of Jim Crow Laws

Jim Crow laws were used to separate the races in virtually every aspect of life. For example, each race lived in different sections of towns and cities. Black people and white people also had separate sections in almost every public space, including schools, restaurants, waiting rooms, and theaters. Interracial marriage was also outlawed.

Separate theatre for people of color
Black Theatre

These laws basically made white people superior in every way. Whites received the high paying jobs, while black people mainly worked in service or hard labor positions. Black people always had to use respect titles with white people, such as Mr. and Mrs., but not vice versa. If a black person and a white person met at a four way stop, the white person always had the right of way. Black individuals couldn't even insinuate that a white person was lying; they just had to accept being cheated, mistreated, and degraded.

In most places in the South, the Jim Crow laws were strictly enforced. A black person always lived in fear of accidentally breaking one of the laws, and doing so carried harsh penalties - black people could be mistreated, fired, beaten, murdered, lynched, tarred and feathered, burned, or suffer a slew of other horrible punishments. There were no consequences for the white perpetrators because in most Southern courts of law, a white person always won.

Influences in the Novel

In the first eight chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird, not much is mentioned about race. We just know that the Finch family has a black cook named Calpurnia, and that everyone that lives on Scout's street is white, and the children at her school are all white as well. But racism comes through loud and clear from chapter nine through the rest of the book. In the ninth chapter, one of Scout's classmates, Cecil Jacobs, makes fun of Scout by saying that her Daddy defends black people by using a racial epithet. From this incident, we learn that Atticus Finch has been appointed to defend a man named Tom Robinson, who was accused of the rape of a white teenager named Mayella Ewell. Atticus intends to prove Tom's innocence, which shocks much of the town. As you can imagine, in a time when Jim Crow laws were strictly enforced, a white person trying to help a black person was extremely frowned upon by white society.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support