Jim Crow Laws

The Jim Crow laws of the Reconstruction era legalized segregation in trans-portation, schools, parks, and other public places. African American poet Lizelia Augusta Jenkins Moorer protested against the humiliation caused by such legalized discrimination. Although her poems speak with strong emotion, Moorer supports her arguments with concrete examples.


If within the cruel Southland you have chanced to take a ride,
You the Jim Crow cars have noticed, how they crush a Negro's pride,
How he pays a first class passage and a second class receives,
Gets the worst accommodations ev'ry friend of truth believes.
'Tis the rule that all conductors, in the service of the train,
Practice gross discriminations on the Negro-such is plain-
If a drunkard is a white man, at his mercy Negroes are,
Legalized humiliation is the Negro Jim Crow car.
'Tis a license given white men, they may go just where they please,
In the white man's car or Negro's will they move with perfect ease,
If complaint is made by Negroes the conductor will go out
Till the whites are through carousing, then he shows himself about.
They will often raise a riot, butcher up the Negroes there,
Unmolested will they quarrel, use their pistols, rant and swear,
They will smoke among the ladies though offensive the cigar;
'Tis the place to drink their whiskey, in the Negro Jim Crow car.
If a Negro shows resistance to his treatment by a tough,
At some station he's arrested for the same, though not enough,
He is thrashed or lynched or tortured as will please the demon's rage,
Mobbed, of course, by "unknown parties," thus is closed the darkened page.

From Lizelia Augusta Jenkins Moorer. In Collected Black Women's Poetry. Oxford University Press, 1988.

  1. What are the "Jim Crow cars" that the author refers to?
  2. What does the author mean when she says that Jim Crow cars are "legalized humiliation"? What are some examples of the humiliation suffered by African Americans who rode in those cars?
  3. According to the author, what happened if an African American passenger complained to the conductor about the behavior of white men in the car?
  4. According to the author, what happened to an African American passenger who resisted abuse by a white man?
  5. How do you think the author feels about the concept of "separate but equal"? Who does the author think benefits most by legal segregation? HRW material copyrighted under notice appearing earlier in this work.
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