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Enslaved People in the Southeast

Jim Crow South

Immediately after the Civil War, the South began enacting laws that enforced racial segregation (legal separation of whites and people of color). These laws mandated racial segregation in all public and private facilities, including but not limited to schools, drinking fountains, parks, shops, hospitals, and modes of transportation. These laws were upheld by the US Supreme Court in the case Plessy v. Ferguson, which used the “separate but equal” legal doctrine. In reality, nothing about racial segregation was equal. As a body of law, Jim Crow institutionalized economic, educational, and social disadvantages for African Americans and other people of color. These laws officially ended with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As seen in the items below, segregation created a separate system for lodging and travel, schools, entrances to theaters, sections of cities and towns, and newspapers.

Excerpt from Anne Spencer's 1936 notebook. Image courtesy of Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia.

Harlem Renaissance poet and public high school librarian in Lynchburg, Virginia, Anne Spencer (1882-1975) summed up life during Jim Crow for African Americans in this 1936 entry of her notebook:

"To gladly be a Negro in a day like this takes more moral courage and sense than God suffered most white men to have. With, perhaps, whimsical deliberation, (there are so many of us) He blackened our skins, laid an affectionate but heavy finger on our nose, greatly exaggerated the curling hair—says go beloved and I know He expects our soul will survive the compliment."

Born on a Virginia farm in 1882 to saloon-keeper and former enslaved man Joel Cephus Bannister of Henry County, Virginia, and former enslaved woman Sarah Louise Scales of Patrick County, Virginia, Spencer received her education at the Virginia Seminary (now Virginia University of Lynchburg), graduating in 1899. Soon afterward, she began her career as a second-grade teacher in West Virginia. She married Edward A. Spencer in 1901 and relocated to Lynchburg where they would eventually welcome the three children. At their home, the Spencer’s would host salons and invited writers and activists such as Langston Hughes, Marian Anderson, George Washington Carver, Thurgood Marshall, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and W.E.B. DuBois.

Involved with the Civil Rights Movement, in 1918, the Spencer’s co-founded the Lynchburg chapter of the NAACP. Within two years, The Crisis would publish Anne Spencer’s first poem, "Before the Feast of Shushan.” Her works were published in the following anthologies: The Book of American Negro PoetryNegro Poets and Their Poems, American Poetry Since 1900, The New Negro, Caroling Dusk, and The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949. Spencer died of cancer at the age of 93. 

Pamphlet written and published by white nationalist and neo-Nazi, George Lincoln Rockwell. Image courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library, VCU Libraries.

Extremists were not uncommon during Jim Crow as illustrated in this multi-page flyer by white nationalist George Lincoln Rockwell outlined the reasons why white people of the Commonwealth of Virginia should unite and vote for him as the White Constitutional Candidate. Rockwell, the founder and head of the American Nazi Party, was well known for his white supremacist views and his knack for political theater. He received 1% of the vote in the 1965 gubernatorial race. In Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity, he is described as regarding blacks as a "primitive, lethargic race who desired only simple pleasures and a life of irresponsibility" and supported the resettlement of all African Americans in a new African state to be funded by the US government.