L e s s o n 3 (SOCIAL STUDIES)35J o u r n e y s i n F i l m: H i d d e n F i g u r e sMoving to the Front of the Bus: Segregation and the Civil Rights MovementEnduring Understandings• Legal segregation in the United States was a direct result of anti-black beliefs of the late 1800s.• People’s attitudes are affected by economic, social, cultural, and civic issues. • The struggle for civil rights continues to be at the forefront of America’s political and social landscape. • Essential Questions• What were the major effects of legal segregation in the United States?• How do acts of resistance continue to affect American society, policies, and culture?Notes to the TeacherThe slave system in the United States was premised on the idea that blacks were biologically and mentally inferior to whites. Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, among others, contended that blacks could never absorb education; he claimed that bondage was good for the slaves. The pseudo-science of phrenology, popular in the 19th century, claimed to support this idea through the measurement of skulls. Judeo-Christian religious texts were also interpreted to lend support.During slavery, blacks and whites in the South had mingled freely, but the institution of slavery made each person’s social status clear. Once slavery ended, many whites felt uncomfortable meeting blacks on an equal footing, for example, while waiting for a train or in a public restaurant. To make sure blacks “stayed in their place,” many communities set aside “white” and “colored” seats in public places, including on public transportation. Drinking fountains, waiting rooms—even cemeteries—were segregated in this way. This was the custom in many cities and towns across the nation, but in the South, it became law. Such laws were put in place beginning in the 1870s by the so-called “Redeemer” governments of Southern states.On a Cincinnati street in 1830, T.D. Rice, a famous white “blackface” minstrel, saw a black man singing “Jump, Jim Crow.” Rice copied the man’s lively song and dance and for years performed the act to great applause. The blackface minstrels, by their stage portrayal, helped to establish the stereotype of black inferiority and the desirability of
segregation. Gradually, the term “Jim Crow” came to be applied to the laws that enforced segregation of blacks from whites in everyday life. The Plessy v.Fergusondecision of 1896 upheld the constitutionality of state laws providing “separate but equal” accommodations for blacks. This precedent greatly aided the spread of segregation on public transportation and in other public places throughout the nation. Lower federal courts and the Interstate Commerce Commission had already approved such segregation. Blacks correctly contended that separate accommodations were rarely, if ever, equal.