Jim Crow for dummies!

The one thing United States Representative from Florida, Byron Donalds, knew well in his audition to become the ex-president’s running mate was full knowledge that he had to leapfrog Tim Scott, his competitor who is prostrating himself vying for the VP gig. Well unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately for him – Donalds found himself on the hot seat with some “clarifying” to do.

In a classic example of “putting lipstick on a pig,” Donalds seemed to suggest at an event in Philadelphia that Black families were “better off” during the Jim Crow era. There’s little doubt that his mentioning “better off” and “Jim Crow” (he cited Jim Crow four times) in the same breath is what ignited the national firestorm.

Now in case you missed the memo or nodded off with your TV’s remote control in your lap, Donalds got caught with his proverbial pants down in an attempt to extoll the virtues of African Americans getting onto the Trump bandwagon. Hey, if we follow Donalds’ opinion that Black folks were better off during Jim Crow, should we follow his logic to conclude that Black folks would be better off with another four years under the ex-president?

Okay, although I may get a pushback with an assertion that there was a kernel of truth in Donalds’ point that there was more unity in the community back then, because we were forced to, he failed miserably and showcasing his ignorance of the oppressive impact of Jim Crow, particularly the devastation it wreaked on the Black family. And if that wasn’t enough, he bounced from talk show to talk show with flimsy attempts to “clarify” his remarks, only to dig himself deeper and deeper into the mess he created as each hosts took him to task.

“How can you even live with yourself,” angrily implored a long-time civil rights activist in a heated back and forth and interruption-filled exchanges on a national television talk show. On another show he was forced to lower his voice and admit that his interracial marriage today would have been outlawed during Jim Crow.

Humm, “Jim Crow”? What are we talking about here?

Well, what follows is for the benefit of one Byron Donalds. Let’s call this “Jim Crow 101” or, eh, “Jim Crow for dummies.”

“Jim Crow” – a pejorative term for African Americans – were state and local laws introduced in the Southern United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that enforced racial segregation. Such laws remained in force until 1965. Formal and informal segregation policies were present in other areas of the United States as well.

Summarily, Jim Crow laws mandated racial segregation in all public facilities in the states of the former Confederate States of America and were upheld in 1896 in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the Supreme Court laid out its “separate but equal” legal doctrine concerning facilities for African Americans.

In practice, Jim Crow institutionalized economic, educational, political and social disadvantages and second-class citizenship for most African Americans living in the United States. After the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909, it became involved in a sustained public protest and campaigns against Jim Crow laws and the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine.

In 1954, segregation of public schools was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Although it took years to make change in some states, the remaining Jim Crow laws were overturned by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

For those of you curious, the origin of the phrase “Jim Crow” has often been attributed to “Jump Jim Crow“, a song-and-dance caricature of Black people performed by white actor Thomas D. Rice in blackface first performed in 1828. When southern legislatures passed laws of racial segregation, these statutes became known as Jim Crow laws.

During that period President Woodrow Wilson’s administration introduced segregation in federal offices despite protests from African American leaders and white progressive groups in the north and Midwest. He appointed segregationist Southern politicians because of his own belief that racial segregation was in the best interest of Black and European Americans alike.  

In the end Byron Donalds, despite what you meant to convey, life under Jim Crow for African Americans was not a bed of sweet-smelling roses. Far from it.

If there’s an upside to contextualizing Donalds’ recent bruhaha it is this one written years ago by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Leonard Pitts, “…the brutish goals of Jim Crow in America never died, but simply reshaped themselves to the sensibilities of the 21st century, learned to hide themselves in bloodless and opaque language of officially race-neutral policy. It would be critical mistake not to understand this.”

So to Pitt’s point, while giving himself a pompous pat on the back as, in his words, “an excellent communicator” during an effort to clarify his remarks, Donalds showered himself with opaque language that, had he declared himself a liberal Democrat, would have earned him the pejorative tag “uppity.”   

Now the suspicion here is that no person is happier at Donald’s dovetail into disgrace than Tim Scott who is probably gleeful that now that there’s one less person he has to compete against for Trump’s VP gig.

Hey Byron, as the late Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” So the time out, please do your homework….. and know your history!

Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and third place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.


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