Within a few years after the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s, African Americans began to see many of their newly won freedoms disappear.
Although discrimination was widespread in the North, it was present in and defined all aspects of Southern life. It was at this difficult time that African Americans began to work together to fight discrimination.
Some southern whites, who had used slavery to repress African Americans, now turned to other methods of repression.
Some southern whites were concerned that African Americans would gain too much political power if they were allowed to vote.
During this period, many states instituted a system of legal segregation. This system ensured that African-Americans were treated as second class citizens.
In the South, segregation was required by the statutes called Jim Crow laws. These laws began appearing a few years after the end of Reconstruction.
By the early 1900s, Jim Crow laws dominated almost every aspect of southern daily life. They required the separation of blacks and whites in schools, parks, public buildings, hospitals, and on transportation systems.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court upheld many Jim Crow laws. In the Civil Rights Cases of 1883, the Court overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which had guaranteed African Americans rights in public places.
In the 1896 case Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Court held in its decision that segregation was legal as long as the separate facilities provided for blacks were equal to those provided for whites.
However, the “equal” part of the “separate- but-equal” ruling proved hard to enforce and African American facilities were rarely if ever made equal.
Even small breaches in racial etiquette could lead to serious trouble for African Americans, who could lose their jobs or even be subjected to violence. The worse kind of violence against blacks was lynching.
An estimated 1,200 African Americans were lynched between 1882 and 1892. Lynching was mainly to strike fear into African Americans and to keep them in their place.
Many African Americans moved north to escape violence and legal segregation. What they found instead was de facto (discrimination “in fact” instead of by law) in northern housings, schools, and employment.
As many African Americans moved to northern industrial cities, they began to compete with American-born whites and immigrants for work. This caused race riots to erupt in New York City and in Springfield, Illinois.
As conditions for African Americans deteriorated, black leaders began to seek new approaches to race problems.
Some, such as Bishop Henry M. Turner, encouraged emigration to Africa. While others still believed that blacks could succeed in the United States.
Mary White Ovington, a white social worker, was one of those concerned about race relations at this time. She helped organize a national conference on the “Negro Question” to be held on Lincoln’s birthday in 1909.
This even marked the founding of the interracial National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It’s purpose was to abolish segregation and discrimination, to oppose racism, and to gain civil rights for African Americans.
By 1914, the NAACP had 50 branches and 6,000 members. In the decades ahead, the NAACP would remain a vital force in the fight for civil rights.
In the early 1900s, African American mutual aid and benefit societies multiplied, and social workers and church groups founded settlement houses in black neighborhoods. African American intellectuals began to publish literature, history, and groundbreaking sociological studies.
In 1887, Alexander Crummell founded the American Negro Academy. Academy members included: W.E.B Du Bois, Paul Dunbar, and Anna Julia Cooper.