Immediately after the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment, most states in the former Confederacy passed Black Codes, laws modeled on the former slave laws. These laws sought to restrict the freedom of emancipated African Americans by restricting their movement and pushing them into a drudgery economy based on low salaries and debt. Vagrancy regulations entitled blacks to be arrested for minor infractions. At this time, a penal labor system known as convict leasing was established. Black men convicted of vagrancy would be used as unpaid laborers and thus effectively enslaved repeatedly. To effectively combat this system, widespread public outcry and the changes that followed came to the rescue.
The social change helped end segregation in the first place because people began to see black people as equals. Segregation is the product of inequality and misunderstanding, and social change eradicates these concepts from public life. Every white person began to wonder whether the differences were so significant as to be squeamish about standing next to someone of a different race. Through social change, the process of repealing Jim Crow laws was set in motion, and social organizations and individuals were the engines of this change. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a Montgomery resident, refused to obey bus driver James Blake’s direction to offer her seat to a white man (Healey and Stepnick 58). She was arrested and imprisoned. When Parks agreed to contest her case, it was the beginning of a fight against Jim Crow laws. Her trial in this act of civil disobedience sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, one of the biggest and most successful group actions against racial segregation in history. The early 1960s saw numerous civil rights demonstrations and protests, especially in the South.
On February 1, 1960, at the Woolworth department store in Greensboro, North Carolina, four black freshmen requested to be served at the store’s segregated lunch counter (Healey and Stepnick 67). The manager refused, and the young men remained in place until closing. The next day the protesters returned with 15 other students, and on the third day with 300. Soon the idea of nonviolent sit-in protests spread across the country. These and other civil rights protests moved President John F. Kennedy to send a civil rights bill to Congress on June 19, 1963 (Healey and Stepnick 68). The proposed legislation offered federal protections for African Americans seeking to vote, shop, eat outside the home and receive an equal education. To pressure Congress to enact civil rights legislation, a coalition of major civil rights groups was formed to organize a major national demonstration in the nation’s capital.
Eventually, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made racial segregation and discrimination illegal (Healey and Stepnick 69). However, the impact of Jim Crow’s long history is still felt and appreciated in the United States. I consider the woman who started the struggle the most critical person in this history, Rosa Parks. In any case, it is the beginning that counts, and she dared to begin the decades-long struggle of black people for equality. There would have been no protests or public displays by civil rights leaders without her action. If she had not refused to submit to discriminatory rules, the broad social changes that led to the abolition of segregation would not have begun. That is why I believe Rosa Parks was one of the most significant contributors to the repeal of Jim Crow’s discriminatory laws.
Healey, Joseph, and Andi Stepnick. Diversity and Society: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender. SAGE Publications, 2019.