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The Origins of Jim Crow Segregation (No. 19)Throughout most of the first half of the twentieth century, the Southern states of the U.S. were sharplysegregated into two societies: one white and one black, in a system that became known as “Jim Crow.”1This is notto say that there was no mixing of the races. On the contrary: the fact that whites' and blacks' lives were sointimately tied up with one another in the South was what made segregation necessary in the minds of so manywhites. Without segregation, white supremacy could not be maintained, for if black people were to have access toeverything that whites did, there would exist no social basis for the subjugation of the "darker race.”The Purpose of SegregationIt is very important to make a distinction between segregation and separation. The purpose of segregation was certainly not complete separation. It was about white supremacy: at an economic, social, and ultimately political level. Complete separation would have made white supremacy impossible, because it would mean that there would be no relations between whites and blacks, and thus no basis for racial subordination. If African-Americans were kept completely separate from whites, for example, it would not have been possible for whites to exploit them as a work force. Under the sort of premodern economy that existed in the post-Civil War South, the exploitation of black labor could not have occurred without relatively close contact between a worker and his employer or exploiter. What segregation did was to allow that contact to occur while preserving white supremacy. Segregation under SlaveryUnder slavery segregation had not usually been required to maintain white dominance. The institution of slavery itself insured that blacks and whites could mingle very intimately without there being any question of whites' superiority, since enslaved blacks had no legal status as persons, and none of the rights of citizens. They belonged to their masters who had both legal and physical control of them, and who thus - at least on the plantation -were able, to a very high degree, to control their slaves’ actions.The nature of plantation slavery was such that segregation would have been impractical in any case. Large planters wanted their slaves close by so that the latter could tend to the former’s needs. On large plantations, "house slaves” would, in most cases, actually live in their masters' house, for their masters' conveniences. Slaves helped their masters and their masters' families with the most intimate details of everyday life: black house servants helped white people dress and fanned them to sleep, while black "mammies" suckled white children, even chewing the foodof babies that had not yet grown their teeth.