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Quotes about jim crow laws
September 04, 2019 Anniversary Wishes No comments

Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation. Named after an insulting song lyric regarding.

Photo Credit: Martin Luther King, by caboindex, Flickr

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and is another opportunity for intentional reflection on Dr. King’s vision of justice and racial reconciliation. In the United States we have a challenging history around racism. From Pre-Civil War slavery, to segregation under Jim Crow Laws, to the ongoing racial tensions felt in our day, it is important to remember from where we have come and where we still need to go.

As a means of remembering well today so we can move forward tomorrow, I offer 20 of my favorite Quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent questions is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend.”

“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

“The time is always right to do the right thing.”

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, we also want to celebrate his vision of justice and racial reconciliation. May we keep Dr. King’s dream alive in the year ahead as we play our part in working for justice and loving our neighbors.

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content of their character, I Have A Dream, justice, Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, MLK, MLK Quotes, Reconciliation

Her point here is that unlike overt oppression of slavery and Jim Crow, this new system operates insidiously under the guise of laws and policies that are.

Biography Newsletter

quotes about jim crow laws

Jim Crow was the name of a minstrel character created in 1828 by Thomas Dartmouth ("Daddy") Rice. Rice's comedy routines and the popular song "Jump, Jim Crow" established the common name for laws that enforced racial prejudice and denied human rights to black people in the United States.

Legal History of Jim Crow

Jim Crow laws started to come into effect, primarily but not exclusively in southern states, after the end of Reconstruction in 1877.

The legal principle of separate but equal was established in the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson in 1895. The Court's decision was summarized by Chief Justice Henry Billings Brown, who stated that the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause "could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either."

That distinction of social, as opposed to strictly legal, discrimination, provided the foundation for states to keep black and white people separated, particularly in social settings and social institutions such as marriage. The convenient fiction of "separate but equal" was quickly abandoned and African Americans were treated as second-class citizens by institutions and laws that persist to this day.

Jim Crow Laws in Daily Life

These laws worked to enforce segregation amongst the races, which led to civil rights actions by individuals such as Ida B. Wells, and ultimately to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s led by people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr..

Examples of Jim Crow laws that caused these extreme tensions in the country included the following.


"The business of America is business," said President Calvin Coolidge, but in his own era and in the present, it has been the country's business to enforce racial inequality. Buying, selling and the simplest activities of daily life - symbolized most famously by the simple water fountain - were firmly segregated by Jim Crow laws.

  • Alabama: "Every employer of white or negro males shall provide for such white or negro males reasonably accessible and separate toilet facilities."
  • Alabama: "It shall be unlawful to conduct a restaurant or other place for the serving of food in the city, at which white and colored people are served in the same room, unless such white and colored persons are effectually separated by a solid partition extending from the floor upward to a distance of seven feet or higher, and unless a separate entrance from the street is provided for each compartment."
  • Georgia: "All persons licensed to conduct the business of selling beer or wine...shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to two races within the same room at any time.
  • Georgia: "It shall be unlawful for any amateur white baseball team to play baseball on any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of a playground devoted to the Negro race, and it shall be unlawful for any amateur colored baseball team to play baseball in any vacant lot or baseball diamond within two blocks of any playground devoted to the white race."
  • Louisiana: "All carriers must provide equal but separate seats for white and colored. No person of one race is allowed to be in the section set aside for the other race."


Marriage has always been a highly politicized issue. As one of the most fundamental institutions of society, when social change occurs, marriage changes with it. Examples of Jim Crow laws like the following were intended to freeze marriage into a perceived ideal where racial mixing was impossible:

  • California: "All marriages of white persons with Negroes, Mongolians, members of the Malay race, or mulattoes are illegal and void."

  • Florida: "All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the fourth generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited."

  • Wyoming: "All marriages of white persons with Negroes, Mulattos, Mongolians, or Malaya hereafter contracted in the State of Wyoming are and shall be illegal and void."


Jim Crow laws required separate hospitals for whites and African Americans. What's more, restrictions on education guaranteed a constant shortage of African American medical professionals. Many treatments were only available to white patients, and even blood transfusions were segregated by race, in spite of the fact that Charles R. Drew, one of the pioneers of American blood banks and a groundbreaking scientist in the field, was himself African American.

  • Alabama: "No person or corporation shall require any white female nurse to nurse in wards or rooms or hospitals, either public or private, where negro men are placed."

  • Georgia: "The Board of Control shall see that proper and distinct apartments are arranged for said patients [in a mental hospital], so that in no cases shall Negroes and white persons be together."

  • Georgia: "The officer in charge shall not bury, or allow to be buried, any colored persons upon ground set apart or used for the burial of white persons."


No single issue since the abolition of slavery has been the subject of more race-based conflict than education. Even after the 1964 Civil Rights Act banned segregated schooling, de facto segregation was maintained, both in and out of the Jim Crow South, through redistricting, redlining and covenants of parents and school administrators to maintain the racial homogeneity of white schools.

When desegregation busing threatened to integrate student bodies, parents protested, sometimes violently. Even in 2019, many cities have acknowledged "black schools" and "white schools," and people offer the same Jim Crow-era arguments against the admission of minority students.

  • New Mexico: "Separate rooms [shall] be provided for the teaching of pupils of African descent, and [when] said rooms are provided, such pupils may not be admitted to the school rooms occupied and used by pupils of Caucasian or other descent."
  • North Carolina: "The state librarian is directed to fit up and maintain a separate place for the use of the colored people who may come to the library for the purpose of reading books or periodicals."
  • Oklahoma: "Any instructor who shall teach in any school, college or institution where members of the white and colored races are received and enrolled as pupils for instruction shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined."
  • Texas: The County Board of Education "shall provide schools of two kinds; those for white children and those for colored children."

From schools and hospitals to prisons and pool halls, the Jim Crow laws sought to keep white and black people separate, and to guarantee the continued subjugation of black people.

Racial Codes of Behavior

As Plessy v. Ferguson explicitly protected social, as opposed to legal, discrimination, African Americans and members of other minorities experienced systematic personal discrimination at the hands of whites. The classic instance is of a white person referring to a grown black man as "boy." The reverse also applied: African Americans were expected to show deference and submission to whites, invariably referring to them as "Mister" or "Miss."

But to describe what was expected of African Americans as a "code of behavior" is misleading. There were no rules, and so no one knew when they had broken them. It was simply a matter of whether white people chose to be offended.

In the famous case of Emmett Till, for instance, a 14-year-old African American boy was mutilated and murdered for speaking to a white woman in what his murderers considered an inappropriate fashion. What did Till say? No one knows. The white woman, Carolyn Bryant, gave, and continues to give, conflicting stories. The men who murdered Till weren't even present. It was enough that someone told them he had spoken inappropriately. That was the "code" that justified lynchings, beatings and police violence in the Jim Crow South.

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow

Jim Crow laws were subject to legal challenges throughout their existence, but real change would have to wait until the 1950s and '60s. Thanks in large part to the work of NAACP lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, in 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, officially abolishing all Jim Crow laws.

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Examples of Jim Crow Laws

quotes about jim crow laws

Early Life and Education

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, better known as W.E.B. Du Bois, was born on February 23, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. 

While growing up in a mostly white American town, Du Bois identified himself as mulatto, but freely attended school with whites and was enthusiastically supported in his academic studies by his white teachers. 

In 1885, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Fisk University. It was there that he first encountered Jim Crow laws. For the first time, he began analyzing the deep troubles of American racism.

After earning his bachelor's degree at Fisk, Du Bois entered Harvard University. He paid his way with money from summer jobs, scholarships and loans from friends. After completing his master's degree, he was selected for a study-abroad program at the University of Berlin. 

While a pupil in Germany, he studied with some of the most prominent social scientists of his day and was exposed to political perspectives that he touted for the remainder of his life.

Harvard Ph.D.

Du Bois became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1895.

He went on to enroll as a doctoral student at Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität (now Humboldt-Universität). He would be awarded an honorary doctoral degree from Humboldt decades later, in 1958.

Writing and Activism

Du Bois published his landmark study — the first case study of an African American community — The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899), marking the beginning of his expansive writing career. 

In the study, he coined the phrase "the talented tenth," a term that described the likelihood of one in 10 black men becoming leaders of their race.

W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington

While working as a professor at Atlanta University, Du Bois rose to national prominence when he very publicly opposed Booker T. Washington's "Atlanta Compromise," an agreement that asserted that vocational education for blacks was more valuable to them than social advantages like higher education or political office. 

Du Bois criticized Washington for not demanding full equality for African Americans, as granted by the 14th Amendment. Du Bois fought what he believed was an inferior strategy, subsequently becoming a spokesperson for full and equal rights in every realm of a person's life.


'The Souls of Black Folks'

In 1903, Du Bois published a seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of 14 essays. In the years following, he adamantly opposed the idea of biological white superiority and vocally supported women's rights. 

In 1909, Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and served as editor of its monthly magazine, The Crisis.

24 quotes have been tagged as jim-crow: Michelle Alexander: 'When we think of Segregation laws were proposed as part of a deliberate and strategic effort to.

20 Quotes from MLK

quotes about jim crow laws



Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation. Named after an insulting song lyric regarding African Americans, the laws—which existed for about 100 years, from the post-Civil War era until 1968—were meant to return Southern states to an antebellum class structure by marginalizing black Americans. Black communities and individuals that attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often met with violence and death.


The roots of Jim Crow laws began as early as 1865, immediately following the ratification of the 13th Amendment freeing four million slaves.

Black codes were strict laws detailing when, where and how freed slaves could work, and for how much compensation. The codes appeared throughout the South as a legal way to put black citizens into indentured servitude, to take voting rights away, to control where they lived and how they traveled and to seize children for labor purposes.

The legal system was stacked against black citizens, with ex-Confederate soldiers working as police and judges, making it difficult for African Americans to win court cases and ensuring they became victim to the black codes.

These codes worked in conjunction with labor camps for the incarcerated, where prisoners were treated as slaves. Black offenders typically received longer sentences than their white equals, and because of the grueling work, often did not live out their entire sentence.


For the next 15 years, local government, as well as the national Democratic Party and even President Andrew Johnson, thwarted efforts to help the freed slaves move forward.

Violence was on the rise, making danger a regular aspect of black lives. Black schools were vandalized and destroyed, and bands of violent whites attacked black citizens in the night.

These were sometimes gruesome incidents where the victims were tortured and mutilated before being murdered. Families were attacked and forced off their land all across the South.

The most ruthless organization of the Jim Crow era, the Ku Klux Klan, was born in this setting in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, as a private club for Confederate veterans.

The KKK grew into a secret society terrorizing black communities and seeping through white southern culture, with members at the highest levels of government and in the lowest echelons of criminal back alleys.


At the start of the 1880s, big cities in the south were not wholly beholden to Jim Crow laws and black Americans found more leeway in them.

This led to substantial black populations moving to the cities and, as the decade progressed, white city dwellers demanded more laws to limit opportunities for African Americans.

Jim Crow laws spread around the south with even more force than previously. Public parks were forbidden for African Americans to enter, and theaters and restaurants were segregated.


The turn of the century saw states across the south ratcheting up Jim Crow laws, affecting every section of daily life.

Segregated waiting rooms in professional offices were required, as well as water fountains, restrooms, building entrances, elevators, cemeteries, even amusement-park cashier windows.

Laws forbade African Americans from living in white neighborhoods. Segregation was enforced for public pools, phone booths, hospitals, asylums, jails and residential homes for the elderly and handicapped.

Some states required separate textbooks black and white students. New Orleans mandated the segregation of prostitutes according to race. In Atlanta, African Americans in court were given a different Bible from whites to swear on. Marriage and cohabitation between whites and blacks was strictly forbidden in most southern states.

It was not uncommon to see signs posted at town and city limits warning African Americans that they were not welcome there.


As oppressive as the Jim Crow era was, it was also a time that many black community members around the country stepped forward into leadership roles to vigorously oppose the laws.

Memphis teacher Ida B. Wells became a prominent activist against Jim Crow laws after refusing to leave a train car designated for whites only. As a conductor forcibly removed her, she bit him on the hand, but a judge ruled in her favor, though that decision was later reversed by a higher court.

Angry at the injustice, Wells devoted herself to fighting the oncoming Jim Crow laws in Memphis. Her vehicle for dissent was newspaper writing. In 1889 she became co-owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight and used her position to take on school segregation and sexual harassment.

Wells traveled throughout the south to publicize her work and advocated for the arming of black citizens. Wells also investigated lynchings and wrote about her findings.

A mob destroyed her newspaper and threatened her with death, forcing her to live in the north where she continued her efforts against Jim Crow laws and lynching.


Charlotte Hawkins Brown was a North Carolina-born, Massachusetts-raised black woman who returned to her birthplace at the age of 17, in 1901, to work as a teacher.

After school funding was withdrawn, Brown found herself fundraising for the school, named the Alice Freeman Palmer Memorial Institute.

Brown became the first black woman to create a black school in North Carolina and through her education work became a fierce and vocal opponent of Jim Crow laws.


Not everyone battled for rights within white society—some chose a separatist approach.

Convinced by Jim Crow laws that black and white people could not live together, ex-slave Isaiah Montgomery created the African American-only town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, in 1887.

Montgomery recruited other former slaves to settle in the wilderness with him, clearing the land and forging a settlement that included a school. Mound Bayou still exists and is still nearly 100 percent black.


As the 20th Century progressed, Jim Crow laws flourished within an oppressive society marked by violence.

Following World War I, the NAACP noted that lynchings had become so prevalent that it sent investigator Walter White to the South. White had lighter skin and could infiltrate white hate groups.

READ MORE: See America’s First Memorial to its 4,400 Lynching Victims

As lynchings increased, so did race riots, with a total of 23 in 1919, and not just confined to the South. In retaliation, white authorities charged black communities with secret conspiracies to conquer white America.

With Jim Crow dominating the landscape, education increasingly under attack and opportunities poor for college graduates, the 1920s saw a significant migration of educated blacks out of the south, spurred on by publications like The Chicago Defender, which encouraged blacks to move north.

Read by millions of southern blacks, whites attempted to ban the newspaper and threatened violence against any caught reading or distributing it.

The poverty of the Great Depression only deepened resentment, with a rise in lynchings, and after World War II, even black veterans returning home met with violence.


The North was not immune to Jim Crow-like laws. Some states required blacks to own property to vote, schools and neighborhoods were segregated, and businesses displayed “whites only” signs.

READ MORE: The Green Book: The Black Travelers’ Guide to Jim Crow America

After World War II, suburban developments were created that did not allow black families, and blacks often found it difficult or impossible to obtain mortgages for homes in certain “red-lined” neighborhoods.


The post-World War II era saw an increase in civil rights activities in the black community, with a focus on ensuring that black citizens were able to vote. This ushered in a decades-long effort in the civil rights movement resulting in the removal of Jim Crow laws.

In 1948 President Harry Truman ordered integration in the military, and in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that educational segregation was unconstitutional.

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which legally ended discrimination and segregation that had been institutionalized by Jim Crow laws.

And in 1965, the Voting Rights Act ended efforts to keep minorities from voting. The Fair Housing Act of 1968, which ended discrimination in renting and selling homes, followed.

Jim Crow laws were technically off the books, though that has not always guaranteed full integration or adherence to anti-racism laws throughout the United States.


The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Richard Wormser.
Segregated America. Smithsonian Institute.
Jim Crow Laws. National Park Service.



Excerpts from Rosa Parks' writings on Jim Crow segregation . By Eds: Restores full quote on airport segregation. Heart of Dixie, there exist some strange and varied customs of racial segregation and Jim Crow laws.”.

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