“Jim Crow” was the stage name of New York actor Thomas D. Rice (1808-1860), who made a career of minstrel performances in blackface and thus popularized that form of entertainment. The name “Jim Crow” came from a popular 1832 song, “Jump Jim Crow,” written and sung by Rice and became a common term referring to African-Americans. Later it became a nick name for legislation restricting the rights of African-Americans. Blackface is not necessarily demeaning. Rice may have based his character on slave folk tales about a clever trickster. Al Jolson (1886-1950), a Russian Jewish immigrant, and the most popular and beloved American entertainer beginning with the movie The Jazz Singer in 1927 and lasting for many decades, was said to be the “king of blackface.” Jolson’s personal feelings and many of his songs were certainly sympathetic to African-Americans. What most people do not know is that Jim Crow laws first originated in Northern States. Northern Jim Crow Laws were the model for Southern States following the ruin, corruption, and oppression of Reconstruction. As author C. Vann Woodward has stated, “Jim Crow has had a strange career.”
In Aexis de Toqueville’s 1835 book, Democracy in America, he wrote that “the prejudice of race appears to be stronger in the States that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those States where servitude has never been known.”
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