Jim Crow Legacy Continues Today

April 12, 2012

Today in 1861, the Civil War began — the bloodiest most divisive war of our nation’s history. After the war, we saw the inception of the Jim Crow era, which brought the passage of more than 400 laws between 1865 and 1967 legalizing segregation in all areas of American life. Although Jim Crow laws primarily affected African-Americans, in the Western and Midwest states they also categorically discriminated against Asian-Americans and Indians.  

During that time, 29 of the Jim Crow laws that passed in the states limited access to the right to vote. With the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, all facially racially discriminatory voting statutes were outlawed. And after passage of the 26th Amendment barring poll taxes in federal elections, most of the Jim Crow laws, with the exception of those discriminating against persons with felony convictions, were outlawed. Today, following the 2011-2012 legislative sessions, 24 laws and executive actions restricting access to the polls were passed, with more pending, in various state legislatures across the country. Only five fewer laws restricting access to the polls passed in the last 24 months than during the entire century that Jim Crow laws proliferated across this country. 

While these laws are allegedly passed to secure elections, they impact communities of color in ways only reflected in our Jim Crow past. Looking at voter ID laws alone, we know that although 11 percent of Americans lack government-issued photo ID, 25 percent of African-Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 18 percent of elderly voters do not have this form of ID. States have also passed restrictions on early voting and community voter registration drives. Communities of color are more than twice as likely to register to vote with these groups, and they use early voting days at a much higher rate than the general population.   

Hopefully our country will never again see the kind of internal bloodshed we saw during the Civil War — but we are now seeing a war on voting that can only be compared to the dark, discriminatory past of the Jim Crow era.