Implementation of Segregation
Date: Thu, 22 Feb 1996
From: Steve Reich
Subject: Query: Implementation of Segregation
A few days ago I was reading
This news item prompted a few thoughts. First, the literature on segregation seems to concentrate on the origins of segregation, on whether it legalized existing social patterns or established new ones, but does not concentrate much on the implementation of segregation ordinances. I had always had the impression that these ordinances merely codified existing residential patterns. Obviously, Port Arthur in 1911 did not "look" like a segregated city, prompting the commission to implement removal and evacuation orders. The Supreme Court declared these residential ordinances unconstitutional, I think, in 1915 or 1916. But if these orders removed blacks and reordered residential patterns before the Court's decision, and the Court reversed the law but not the removal, the damage was already done.
In a way this created the impression that the city had always been segregated, when in fact, it took considerable government action to achieve it. I have not read on in the paper to find out how many people were actually evacuated and removed under the ordinance, but it might be a worthy enterprise when I can find time away from the dissertation.
Do list members know of any works that investigate the implementation of segregation ordinances in the South or deal with such questions, or can anyone provide some thoughts and information on this topic?
Department of History
Evanston, IL 60208
Date: Fri, 23 Feb 1996
From: Michael Chesson
Subject: Re: Query: Implementation of Segregation
When I was working on my own dissertation on Richmond After the War (1981, Va. State Library, now Library of Virginia) I found that the first ordinance, as far as I can recall, was in Baltimore. I don't know all that much about actual implementation; after my period mostly, post-1900. I do have the sense that in Richmond and elsewhere historical reality was somewhere between the two positions that you outline, as suggested long ago by Vann Woodward in The Strange Career of Jim Crow, which in its own way is a very strange book with a strange history. In Richmond by 1860 there were already neighborhoods that were mostly black, largely on the city's periphery, inhabited not only by free blacks, but also hired and rented slaves, as well as those owned outright by corporations. The practices of "living out" and boarding out funneled these African-Americans into certain neighborhoods, mostly away from the city center. When Jackson Ward, Richmond's historic black district, was gerrymandered in 1871, 80% of the black population could be included in it, because so many blacks lived on the city's north side. Despite the erratic boundary line, it was possible to include most of the Republican (and black) voters in the city in one ward. By 1871 Richmond was already a largely segregated city, albeit in a de facto not a de jure sense.
Don't know about Port Arthur, but I suspect in many post-1900 cities where segregation ordinances were passed and then implemented, the work of segregation had mostly been done over the preceding three or four decades. Howard N. Rabinowitz, Race Relations in the Urban South, 1865-1890 (Oxford UP, 1978) goes into far more detail about some aspects of the subject, and is far broader than my monograph.
Michael Chesson, U/Mass-Boston
Date: Sat, 24 Feb 1996
From: H. Watson
Subject: Re: Implementation of segregation
Jeffrey Crow and Jack Temple Kirby have both written about Clarence Poe's plan to impose residential apartheid throughout the rural South in the eaarly decades of the twentieth century. Poe was the post-Populist editor of the PROGRESSIVE FARMER and a noted southern Progressive. See Jeffrey J. Crow, "An Apartheid for the South: Clarence Poe's Crusade for Rural Segregation," in Crow, et al. eds, RACE, CLASS, AND POLITICS IN SOUTHERN HISTORY (Baton Rouge, 1989), 216-259 and Jack Temple Kirby, "Clarence Poe's Vision of a Segregated 'Great Rural Civilization,'" SOUTH ATLANTIC QUARTERLY 68 (1969), 27-38.
H. Watson, UNC-CH
On the implementation of segregation in Charlotte, NC, you may want to look at a University of North Carolina dissertation written by Tom Hanchett (soon to be out in a book). You may also want to contact Tom at Youngstown State in Ohio.
University of Wisconsin-Superior
Date: Wed, 28 Feb 1996
From: David Alsobrook
Subject: Re: Implementation of Segregation--Long Reply
Disclaimer: I apologize in advance for posting such a long message. Readers not particularly interested in this topic should delete at this point. The information which follows represents my own opinions based on reseach over the years on this topic.
I think in studying patterns of urban segregation in the South we sometimes become overly preoccupied with municipal ordinances which simply codified existing systems of social control which were enforced primarily by tradition and intimidation. In writing about Beaumont, TX. Steve Reich asks about examples of the implementation of segregation ordinances in the South. I agree fully with Michael Chesson's response that Howard Rabinowitz's monograph provides a wealth of detail on this subject and that de facto segregation was solidified several decades before the advent of de jure Jim Crow. While Reich's query certainly is worthy of further discussion, I feel that in addition to documenting the implementation of segregation ordinances, we should focus more closely upon the events and trends leading to the adoption of such laws and the longterm legacies of Jim Crow.
In my dissertation research on Mobile, Alabama, ca. 1896-1917, I found evidence of only one municipal ordinance dealing with segregation. Yet, by 1900, Mobile was as rigidly segregated as any city in the Deep South. By the turn of the century, about 44% of Mobile's population of 40,000 were African-Americans. Like New Orleans and Charleston, Mobile had sizable numbers of "Creoles of Color" and light-skinned blacks--A fact which led to a blurring of the "color line" and further complicated the enforcement of segregation. Also, while obviously not a topic of "polite conversation" among upper-class white Mobilians, miscegnation was quite common in Mobile. Although the majority of the city's African-Americans traditionally resided in the north-northeastern quadrant of Mobile, city directories and census records clearly reveal that as streetcar suburbs expanded westward, some working class neighborhoods included a sprinkling of "Creoles of Color." Despite Mobile's relative racial fluidity, de facto segregation was firmly in place from the 1870s on and was enforced primarily through custom, gerrymandering, disfranchisement, and intimidation. As large numbers of African-Americans relocated in Mobile during the late 1890s and early 1900s from rural south Alabama, Mississippi, and the Florida Panhandle, these new arrivals began to compete for jobs traditionally held by whites in the area. Since a number of blacks were employed as domestics, they relied heavily on the city's rapidly-expanding streetcar system.
In 1898, when the Third Alabama Regt. was headquartered near the outskirts of Mobile, there were numerous press accounts of racial altercations on the streetcars. One conductor warned Major Robert Lee Bullard (the white CO) that "unless you officers make them behave themselves, there is going to be a dead nigger in your camp." Over the next four years, pressure mounted for the Mobile General Council to adopt a segregation ordinance for streetcars to protect "respectable" Mobilians from "bad Negroes." In the fall of 1902, the General Council passed such an ordinance which was added verbatim to the Mobile City Code of 1907. With only minor amendments in 1917, this segregation ordinance survived the city's replacement of trolleys with buses in the early 1940s. This ordinance includes one specification which illustrates the basic hypocrisy and ambivalence of Jim Crow--Black nurses accompanying white children were permitted to be seated in the front of streetcars with other white passengers. The Mobile segregation ordinance of 1902 sparked a bitter, but brief boycott of the streetcars by blacks (as in many other southern cities of that era). The burden of enforcing the ordinance typically fell on streetcar conductors, motormen, and policemen. Most of the city court cases in Mobile in 1902-1903 which evolved from violations of this ordinance resulted in the levy of small fines against conductors and other transit employees who had failed to enforce the new law. Although at this point I don't fully understand the historical significance of the 1902 boycott, I think perhaps it was a very clear warning that racial tensions in the city had reached the breaking point after decades of intimidation and oppression by whites and attempts at accommodation and conciliation by African-Americans.
The fact remains that intimidation, overt threats, and outright violence increased after 1902. In 1904, William Frye Tebbetts, the Republican Customs Collector in Mobile, ordered all blacks to leave Bienville Square (the city's oldest public park) after delivering an emotional racist harangue to an assembly of blacks and whites. Despite the concerted efforts of racially moderate, civic-minded journalists like Erwin Craighead, Mobile newspapers grew increasingly hostile toward blacks, exemplified by Max Hamburger's Mobile Daily Herald. In 1906, two young black men were taken by a mob from deputies on a train in Plateau, just north of Mobile, and lynched from a nearby tree. Three years later, the Mobile County Sheriff (Frank Cazalas) unlocked his jail and allowed a mob to take his black prisoner from his custody and lynch him in the shadow of Christ Episcopal Church in the heart of the city. When U.S. Attorney William Armbrecht attempted to investigate the case in 1909, he received numerous death threats.
Without overstating the obvious, I feel that violence was the key factor in implementing segregation in Mobile. I don't know enough about other cities to offer any comparative comments. However, to return to Steve Reich's query about Beaumont, I think Mobile and Beaumont are somewhat similar in regard to their racial history over the longterm. During World War II, both cities experienced extreme racial tensions and violence. In the case of Mobile, racial problems after 1917 were hidden beneath a veneer of civic boosterism and simply were not resolved until the 1960s and 70s (if then).
One final thought about studying segregation ordinances--Such laws perhaps can be viewed as signposts along the Jim Crow road. In the past when I've found myself totally absorbed in the "racial intent" and strange language of such ordinances and statutes, a particular photographic image crosses my mind. Back in the early 1980s, I traveled from Atlanta to Macon with my family on a one-day steam locomotive excursion. While walking through downtown Macon, we visited the old train depot which was built around 1916 and was currently being renovated. Etched clearly in the stone portal over one of the depot doors, I saw these words: COLORED WAITING ROOM. The society which carved those words in stone obviously expected segregation to endure forever, like the Third Reich. To me, such a stark icon to intolerance is much more illustrative of the essence of Jim Crow than municipal ordinances.
Bush Presidential Materials Project
701 University Drive East, Suite 300
College Station, TX 77840-1899
Tel. (409) 260-9552
FAX (409) 260-9557
Date: Thu, 29 Feb 1996
From: Rick Gildemeister
Subject: Re: Implementation of Segregation
I found David Alsobrook's posting very interesting, and as everyone on this list knows, when we start talking about "third groups" like Creoles of color, Rick Gildemeister jumps in with some observations from his own perspective of a student of the so-called "Tri-racial isolate communities".
I remember reading an article that the Mobile Creoles had their own fire department up to 1925!
One fact I want to add, and it is something I've read in impressionistic literature, and would be really a ground-breaking fact if it could be documented, that the South Carolina "Brass Ankles" actively collaborated with the whites when the latter set about to implement segregation. South Carolina's experience is rather unusual, because every community had different mores and customs as to what white privileges (some) Brass Ankles had. In some communities, they might be welcome on the ground floor in movie theaters, but not in white restaurants. In some locales, Brass Ankles were "mistered" and whites would shake hands with them, but in other areas not. In many communities, Brass Anklkes were welcome to sit in the front of buses, but not in the white waiting areas of bus depots. One universal factor, and this is *crucial* to understanding the difficulty South Carolina had in implementing dominance over Brass Ankles, i.e. persons of African ancestry that didn't just drop between the cracks; they forced their way in (and the whites seemed curiously impotent and helpless to stop them): I know of no situation where a Brass Ankle man married a white woman and was harmed in any way, or whose marriage was not allowed. After all, one of the customs in some sections of South Carolina was that Brass Ankle births and marriages listed the parties as white. Intermarriage between "tri-racial" men and white women occurred also very freely in North Carolina (I've met a Lumbee Indian who grew up as an Indian even though his mother was white). In North Carolina the ancestors of the Lumbees made sure that *marriages between blacks and themselves* were made illegal, however.
I hope my posting will stimulate some of the scholars on the list to possibly be interested enough to pursue and document some of this lore.
Lehman College Library
Bronx, NY 10468