Did Racial Segregation Improve the Status of African Americans?
“Whites were there because they chose to be; blacks were there because they had no choice.” (p. 158) This quote, from the essay written by Howard N. Rabinowitz, encompasses many, if not all of the ideas that go along with racial segregation. It is a well-known fact that racial segregation did create a separate and subordinate status for blacks, however, seeing as how at the turn of the century the integration of blacks and whites was a seemingly unrealistic idea, segregation could be seen as somewhat of an improvement from the blacks’ previous position in the U.S. as slaves.
“Everything is forgiven in the South but color”. (p. 159) On the contrary to the above ideas, this quote, spoken by a black woman in Alabama, and seen in Leon F. Litwack’s essay opposing the idea that segregation improved the status of African Americans; shows how blacks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were characterized by increased inequality because of their skin color. What is looked at as an improvement by Rabinowitz is seen as “an informal code of exclusion and discrimination” (p. 160) by Litwack.
Although congress reconstructed the exclusion policy in 1867, many white Southerners still remained committed to the exclusion policy. As a result of this, the military and other forces, to grant new privileges and services to blacks, forced the whites. After all, segregation was the alternative to integration, and whites didn’t want integration. In Rabinowitz’s essay, entitled From Exclusion to Segregation: Southern Race Relations, 1865-1890, many examples are shown in regards to how the exclusion of blacks was transformed into the segregation of blacks from whites. Some examples of this were seen in bars, athletic events, parks, trains, etc. An idea was presented by certain Republicans that said that separate provisions for blacks was not a violation of civil rights as long as the facilities and accommodations were equal to those of whites. Rabinowitz states: “They [blacks] accepted segregation because it was seen as an improvement over exclusion and because they believed, or at least hoped, that separate facilities could be equal.” (p. 156) The segregation of blacks was also seen by Rabinowitz as the chance to form a group identity among blacks. “When the white community persisted in its policy of exclusion, blacks responded by opening up their own hospitals, orphanages, hotels, ice cream parlors, and skating rinks.” (p. 157) Although these actions can’t really be compared to the racism shown by whites, by implementing their own establishments, blacks showed that they too could contribute to the separation of blacks and whites.
The Black Codes, as well as the few segregation laws that were passed by the post Civil war government, failed to carry on through the Reconstruction...