Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Drawing the Color Line: Equal but Separate

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  • Jim Crow. Image.N.d. Prints and Photographs Collection. Library of Congress. Washington D.C., LOC
    Jim Crow Image
  • Oliver Scott's Refined Negro Minstrels... Cincinnati, U.S.A.: U.S. Printing Co., ca. 1898. Minstrel Poster Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., LOC
    Minstrel Poster
  • <em>City of Richmond v. Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad Company, and Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company,</em> 1914. State Corporation Commission, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia., LVA
    Byrd Street Train Station
  • <em>True Sons of Freedom.</em> Chicago: Charles Gustrine, 1918. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress., LOC
    African American Soldiers in WWI
  • Rockbridge County (Va.) Clerk's Correspondence [Walter A. Plecker to A. T. Shields], 1912–1943. Local Government Records Collection, Rockbridge County Court Records. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia., LVA
    Birth Registration Card
  • Rockbridge County (Va.) Clerk's Correspondence [Walter A. Plecker to A. T. Shields], 1912–1943. Local Government Records Collection, Rockbridge County Court Records. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia., LVA
    Walter Plecker Letter
  • A Greyhound bus trip...Rome, Ga. Sept. 1943, Esther Bubley, photographer; A Greyhound bus trip ... Waiting for the bus at the Memphis terminal, Sept. 1943 Esther Bubley, photographer; A drinking fountain on the county courthouse lawn. Halifax, N.C., April 1938. John Vachon, photographer; Sign on restaurant, Lancaster, Ohio Aug. 1938, Shahn, Ben, photographer; Theatre in Leland, Mississippi, June 1937. Dorothea Lange, photographer; A cafe in the warehouse district during tobacco auction season. Durham, N.C., Nov. 1939. Marion Post Wolcott, photographer; People who came to Saturday night dance around the bar. Birney, Montana. Aug. 1941. Marion Post Wolcott, photographer; Farm Security Administration– Office of War Information Photograph Collection Prints and Photographs Collection, Library of Congress., LOC
    Jim Crow Sign Set
  • Silas Sexton Steele, “Walk Jaw Bone,” In <em>Songs of the Virginia Serenaders</em>. Boston: Keith's Pub. House, ca. 1844. Sheet Music Collection, Special Collections, Library of Virginia, Richmond., LVA
    Minstrel Performers
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« Return to The Fourteenth Amendment

Drawing the Color Line:
Equal but Separate

In his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Dubois asserted, "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." He referred to the physical separation of the races that was evident not only in the South where in most places the separation was legally and sometimes brutally enforced, but also of the separation of the races in all intellectual and professional pursuits throughout the nation.

In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that a state law requiring separate seating for white and black passengers in railway cars was not a deprivation of the equal protection of the laws as required by the Fourteenth Amendment so long as the separate accommodations were substantially equal. The "separate but equal" doctrine permitted state governments to adopt many laws requiring separation of the races, and during the first half of the twentieth century federal and state courts relied on that doctrine to uphold racial segregation and discrimination statutes.

Until the second half of the twentieth century African Americans were relegated to substandard facilities in public places, in transportation, and at all mixed-race events and organizations, including the military. In the South they were excluded from clubs, advanced employment and education, and sports. Underlying the laws requiring physical separation of the races was racial prejudice among white people that was built on and that encouraged discriminatory stereotypes and caricatures.

In Virginia, Walter Ashby Plecker, the head of the state's Bureau of Vital Statistics, employed his position to wage a campaign that forced African Americans to register as "colored" and prevent them from passing as white or sending their students to white schools. Plecker also systematically worked to reclassify all Virginia Indians as "Negro" or "colored" and thereby subject them to the same discriminatory laws that kept them from marrying white people or sending their children to schools intended for white students.

People Featured in This Unit:

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  • Dred Scott (ca. 1799–1858)
  • Margaret Douglass (fl. 1845–1854)
  • George Major Cook (1860–1930)
  • Walter Ashby Plecker (1861–1947)
  • John Mitchell Jr. (1863–1929)
  • Aline Black (1906–1974)
  • Oliver White Hill (1907–2007)
  • J. Lindsay Almond Jr. (1898–1986)
  • Spottswood William Robinson III (1916–1998)
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