Race distinction vs. race discrimination — a fine line indeed

“North Carolina has a law that white and Negro children shall not attend the same schools, but that separate schools shall be maintained. If the terms for all the public schools in the State are equal in length, if the teaching force is equal in numbers and ability, if the school buildings are equal… then race distinction exists but not a discrimination….

“If scientific investigation and experience show that in the education of the Negro child emphasis should be placed on one course of study, and in the education of the white child, on another, [then] it is not a discrimination to emphasize industrial training in the Negro school and classics in the white school. There is no discrimination so long as there is equality of opportunity….”

— From “Race Distinctions in American Law” by Gilbert Thomas Stephenson (1910) 

“Separate but equal” had been approved in Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) and would remain the law of the land until Brown vs. Board of Education (1954).


Whites feared ‘trifles’ could grow into ‘thunder-bolts’

“Comparing race relations in the early 20th century to what they had been like after Reconstruction, a [white] North Carolinian lamented the extent to which blacks showed disdain for the old customs, monopolizing, for example, the inner side of the sidewalks once deemed the white man’s ‘right of way.’

“This was no small matter. Such ‘assertions of independence’ and ‘racial equality,’ if tolerated, were bound to have disastrous consequences.

” ‘When the whites yield in what would be usually called “trifles,” they may some day discover that little by little these trifles have grown into “thunder-bolts.” ‘ ”

— From “Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow” by Leon F. Litwack (2010)


Jim Crow’s reach extended to courtroom Bibles

” ‘Confusion with Jim Crow Bible’ [a story in the Raleigh Evening Times] March 29, 1906, describes an incident during the trial of a black schoolteacher accused of disposing of a mule on which there was a mortgage. A defense witness, who was colored but looked white, took the stand and was being sworn in when the judge told the sheriff the man had been given the wrong Bible.

” ‘That one… is for the use of the white people,’ Judge Amistead [Armistead?] Jones said. ‘Not that I am a stickler about such matters, but if there are to be different Bibles kept for the races, then you must not get them mixed that way. Have a different place for them, and keep them there. Then such mistakes as this will not be made.’ ”

— From “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson (2010)


Jim Crow deal overcomes railroads’ resistance

“RALEIGH, N.C. — There has been a demand for separate coaches for the whites and blacks on the railroads of this State ever since the war, but the influence of the railroads has been sufficient to prevent the introduction of the ‘Jim Crow’ cars as they are called by the negroes. The argument of the railroads was that separate coaches would add greatly to their expense, and this prevailed with the Legislature and the Railroad Commission until now.

“Last week a resolution before the commission requiring the railroads to provide separate coaches was laid aside in order that the Legislature…  may provide for this new feature in transportation by regular enactment. Some of the railroads have withdrawn their opposition to the ‘Jim Crow’ cars, with the understanding that the second-class fare will be abolished, and the first-class fare reduced from 3 1/4 cents to 3 cents.

“Of course the same accommodations are to be provided for the same money, but it is well known that nothing connected with the race problem so galls and cuts the negro as separate cars. The negro never goes into a second-class car if he has the money  for first-class.

“Here in Raleigh, where the Union Station has a separate room for the negroes, there has been continual opposition and complaint on the part of the negroes. The result of the recent election has settled this matter, and it will be put into law by the incoming legislature….  The white people seem to be in no humor for any delay in carrying out this policy.”

— From “Race Problem on Railroads: The Plan in North Carolina for Running Separate Coaches” in the New York Times (Dec. 18, 1898)