45 pages 1 hour read

Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth Of Other Suns

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2010

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Segregation and “Separate but Equal”

African-Americans existed as second-class citizens both in the North and in the South. Despite the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 ostensibly ending slavery, Southern legislatures eroded the newly won freedoms of African-Americans, making it impossible for African-Americans to become the equals of whites. Obstacles to voting, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, limited African-American turnout in elections, thus all but guaranteeing that whites and pro-white policies would dominate state and local governments in the South. Furthermore, practices such as sharecropping kept African-Americans in debt and economically dependent on white landowners, become a less obvious form of enslavement.

The 1896 Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson declared that segregation did not violate the 14th Amendment as long as facilities were “separate but equal.” In practice, of course, white officials responsible for creating facilities for Black people made no effort at making them “equal”—segregation was a way of continuing second-class citizenship status.

The North practiced a less obvious version of social segregation. Labor unions tacitly strove to limit and exclude black membership, homeowners refused to sell or rent to African-Americans, and communities and organizations maintained rigid separation between white and Black people—in effect, African-Americans were restricted to certain communities and job fields.