The legalized discrimination against Black people that we know as “Jim Crow” is often associated with the South, but it’s not that simple. Jim Crow wasn’t just in the South, it was in the North too – and that history actually predates the time period many associate with it.
Legal “separation” based on race was not as inherent in the institution of slavery as some may think it was. Enslavement required close proximity to enforce, coerce, and brutalize Black people in bondage. However, this wasn’t necessarily the case in much of the North.
Separation occurred in the North in places like train cars, where Black and white people were given designated seating based on race. Frederick Douglass even protested this mistreatment himself alongside other abolitionists.
The legal separation in the North was taking place BEFORE the Civil War – not AFTER the Supreme Court permitted “separate but equal” in the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. Jim Crow in the South was a strategic way to criminalize and impose restrictions on Black people following Reconstruction-era reforms.
Today the legacy of Jim Crow and separation haunt Black people who are trying to survive but are met with new, updated forms of criminalization at every turn. Mass incarceration and imprisonment are the modern, racist manifestations of this white supremacist society.