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Collection African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection

Segregation and Violence

Thursday, December 29, 1898
Evening Session, 7.30 o'clock

Protection of American Citizens

Negro expulsion from railway car, Philadelphia. Artist unknown. Wood engraving, in Illustrated London News, September 27, 1856. LC-USZ62-45698.

Federal efforts to ensure the rights of African-Americans in the South came to an end in 1877. Over the following four decades, without significant objection from the courts or the federal government, white supremacists enacted "Black Laws" which imposed strict segregation. Schools, churches, restaurants, hotels, public transportation, rest rooms, and water fountains were labeled "white only" or "colored." In hospitals, blacks could not nurse whites, nor could whites nurse blacks. Legal obstacles were erected and terrorism used to keep African-Americans from voting: in Louisiana in 1896 there were 130,334 blacks registered to vote; by 1905 only 1,342 were registered.

Mob-violence and Anarchy, North and South

George Meadows, "murderer & rapist," lynched on scene of his last crime. L. Horgan, Jr. (dates unknown). Photograph, c. 1889. LC-USZ62-31911

In the South, lynching was one of the terrorist tactics used to control and threaten the African-American. Between 1889 and 1918, a total of 2,522 black Americans were lynched, 50 of them women. These people were hanged, burned alive, or hacked to death. According to the mythology popular at the time, black men were lynched because they had raped white women, yet historians find that in eighty percent of the cases there were no sexual charges alleged, let alone proved. People were lynched for petty offenses such as stealing a cow, arguing with a white man, or attempting to register to vote. Social critic H.L. Mencken described the practice as one which "in sheer high spirits, some convenient African is taken at random and lynched, as the newspapers say, 'on general principles.'" No one was punished in the South for taking part in a lynching until 1918.