Jim Crow By: Emiliano Valencia-Donohue

During Jim Crow, African Americans were unfairly treated when accused of a crime, and were rarely given a fair trial.

In 1931, there was a lynching in Obion County, Tennessee. Thomas J. Pressly, a twelve year old, recalls the unfair lynching of a young black man. Thomas lived in Troy, Tennessee, when he had to go to Union City, where coincidentally a trial had happened earlier that day. As soon as he arrived at Union City, he recalled the court house grounds being very full, and a Black man's body hanging on a tree in the center of the crowd. Thomas later found out he was lynched because the man was accused of entering a white woman's bedroom and clutching her neck. The woman said that she fought him off and left the attacker with several scratches on his face. Hours later the sheriff caught the man, who also had scratches on his face. Due to the racial prejudice there was no investigation and he was immediate put in the jail. Before long, a mob of angry white people gathered, overpowered the sheriff, broke into the jail, and hung the man who was accused of attacking the lady. The black man was later identified as a high school graduate, which was very uncommon for black people during the Jim Crow era.

local nEWspaper Reports on the lynching

On August 7, 1930, a white mob lynched two black men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana. The two teenagers, 18 and 19 years old had been arrested the afternoon of the lynching. They were accused of attacking of attacking a young white couple, fatally shooting the man, and attempting to assault the woman. Once the teenagers were detained, word of the charges spears and a mob of angry white residents gathered outside the local jail.

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At around 9:30 p.m., the mob attempted to enter the jail, but they were repelled by tear gas. At 10 o'clock, they successfully barreled past the sheriff and his three deputies, grabbed both Shipp and Smith from their cells, and dragged them into the streets. At that point the number of enraged white people was at about 7,5000 people (roughly half the white population of the county), the mob beat, tortured, and hung both men from trees in the courthouse yard. The mob brutally executed them without benefit of trial or legal proof of guilt. After the lynching, some of the members of the mob re-entered the jail and grabbed James Cameron, another teenager being held for the crime. The mob beat Cameron severely and were preparing to lynch him when a member of the crowd told them he was innocent. He was later released and the mob dispersed.

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After hearing about the lynching, the NAACP traveled to Marion to investigate, and later provided the U.S. Attorney General James Ogden with the names of 27 people believed to have participated. Though the lynching and its spectators were photographed, local residents claimed not to recognize anyone pictured and no one was charged or tried in connection with the killings. The photograph of Shipp's and Smith's battered corpses hanging lifeless from a tree, with the mob proudly standing below, which remains as one of the most iconic lynching photographs. After seeing the photo, New York schoolteacher Abe Meeropol was inspired to write "Strange Fruit", a haunting poem about lynching that later became a famous song recorded by Billie Holiday

In 1931, nine black teens riding a freight train north toward Memphis, Tennessee, were arrested after being falsely accused of raping two white women. After nearly being lynched, they were brought to trial in Scottsboro, Alabama.

Despite evidence that exonerated the teens, including a retraction by one of their accusers, the state pursued the case. All-white juries delivered guilty verdicts and all nine defendants, except the youngest, were sentenced to death. From 1931 to 1937, during a series of appeals and new trials, they languished in Alabama's Kilby prison, where they were repeatedly brutalized by guards.

In 1932, the United States Supreme Court concluded in Powell v. Alabama that the Scottsboro defendants had been denied adequate counsel at trial. In 1935, the Court in Norris v. Alabama again ruled in favor of the defendants, overturning their convictions because Alabama had systematically excluded black people from jury service.

Finally, in 1937, four of the defendants were released and five were given sentences from twenty years to life; four of those were released on parole between 1943 and 1950. The fifth escaped prison in 1948 and fled to Michigan. Clarence Norris walked out of Kilby Prison after being paroled in 1946 and moved north; he received a full pardon from Governor George Wallace in 1976.

Black People were unfairly compensated during the Jim Crow era, when compared to White people who had the same jobs. Black Women were also often pressured to work, because the husband often would not make enough to support the family, and employment increased for Black People

In the 15 states that were in the survey about wages, every state except Missouri had the Average Annual Salary of Principals, Supervisors, and Teachers earning more than Black principals, supervisors, and teachers. The only reason that Missouri had a higher salary is because all the Black schools at the time were located in cities where all salaries were higher.

There was more pressure for African American women to work outside the home, often for low wages in the domestic service sector, for example, in the late 1930's, female domestics earned $3-8 per week, at times less. For black females in the south, manufacturing employment increased from 14.5% in 1930 to 21.3% in 1960, but the increase was largest for non-durable goods. For black males, in the South, agricultural employment dropped from 43.6% in 1940, to 4.9% in 1980.

Outside of laws that specifically addressed the issue of race, other laws that impacted the tenant farmer were often differentially enforced, to the detriment of African Americans. Enticement laws, and emigrant agent laws were geared toward the immobilizing labor by preventing other employers from trying to lure employees away with promises of better wages; in the case of enticement the laws limited competition between landowners to the beginning of each contract season, and the emigrant agent laws created limitations on employers trying to lure out of the region altogether.

African Americans were forced to pay for certain necessities such as voting. These limits were always put on African Americans, and not on the White People.

Denying Black men the right to wrote through legal maneuvering and violence was a first step in taking away their civil rights. Beginning in the 1890's, southern states enacted literacy tests, poll taxes, elaborate registration systems, and eventually whites-only Democratic Party primaries to exclude voters. The laws proved very effective. In Mississippi, fewer than 9,000 of the 147,000 voting age African Americans were registered after 1890. In Louisiana, where more than 130,000 black voters had been registered in 1896, the number had plummeted to 1,342 by 1904.

This songbook, published in Ithaca, New York, in 1839, shows an early depiction of minstrel-show character named Jim Crow. By the 1890's the expression "Jim Crow" was being used to describe laws and customs aimed at segregating African Americans and others. These laws were intended to restrict social contact between whites and other groups and to limit the freedom and opportunity of people of color

Insulting racial stereotypes were common in American society. They reinforced discrimantory customs and laws that oppressed Americans of many racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. The cigarette holder and early 20th-century advertising cards depict common stereotypes of African Americans, Chinese Americans, Jews, and Irish Americans.


"Eyewitness to Terror: The Lynching of a Black Man in Obion County, Tennessee in 1931 | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed." Eyewitness to Terror: The Lynching of a Black Man in Obion County, Tennessee in 1931 | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

"A History of Racial Injustice." A History of Racial Injustice - Equal Justice Initiative. Racial Injustice, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

"Jim Crow Economy." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 06 Feb. 2017. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

"White Only: Jim Crow in America - Separate Is Not Equal." White Only: Jim Crow in America - Separate Is Not Equal. American History, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

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