The Impact of Jim Crow Laws on Education

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  • 0:01 Jim Crow Laws
  • 1:24 Separate & Unequal
  • 3:14 Rosenwald Schools
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Jim Crow laws held racial minorities back for almost a century. Nowhere was that more obvious than in segregated schools. In this lesson, we'll look at the inequalities of segregated schools and the positive contribution of Rosenwald schools.

Jim Crow Laws

Imagine that you are a teenager, and you're ready to go to high school. You really want to go to high school and maybe even college because you enjoy learning and want to get a good job in the future.

But there's a problem. You live on a farm in the middle of nowhere, and the only school in the area won't allow you to attend because of the color of your skin.

There are dozens of scenarios I could ask you to imagine about what it was like to be black in the Jim Crow South. I could ask you to think about going to a movie with friends, only to be shut out because the only theater in town is whites-only. I could ask you to imagine traveling to a new town, only to discover that none of the hotels or motels would allow you to check in. What if you were on the road and starving but couldn't eat at any restaurants?

For the first century after the American Civil War, Jim Crow laws, or segregation laws, sprang up in the South. These laws kept power in the hands of whites, while keeping black Americans from being able to get the same benefits of society as their neighbors.

Of all the places that the Jim Crow laws hurt African Americans, perhaps the most poignant was in the education system, where millions of children were shut out of a good education because of the color of their skin. Let's look closer at how the Jim Crow laws impacted American education.

Separate & Unequal

Even when the Jim Crow laws were being enacted, many people (including white people) felt that they were not fair. They believed that blacks and whites should have equal access to opportunity.

So how did the Jim Crow laws manage to be passed if many people believed that everyone should be equal? The phrase 'separate but equal' was a common refrain in the Jim Crow South. Proponents of the laws said that they provided equal opportunities for everyone, though in separate quarters.

Of course, that was not true at all. In education, for example, black schools received on average far less money than white schools. Because of that, school conditions were vastly different. White school buildings were maintained far better than black school buildings, and white classrooms were less crowded. White schools could afford to pay for the best educators.

Some black schools even had inequality of materials. In some places, black schools were not allowed to use textbooks with the Constitution or Declaration of Independence in them, because the white school boards feared that would lead to black students wanting equality and freedom.

And that was just the inequalities between the students who had access to school at all. Remember when I asked you to imagine that you wanted to go to school but couldn't because the only school in your area was all-white? Sadly, this was true for many people.

After the Civil War, most African Americans in the South lived in rural areas. Those small towns and farming communities could often only afford to support one school, and so the only school offered was whites-only. For many blacks, that meant that the only black school available to them was too far away for them to attend.

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