Where, Then, Did "Jim Crow" Come From?
To be sure, what is known as “Jim Crow” began in the antebellum North and spread southward after Reconstruction. In a region already hostile to black participation in social and political life, New York in the 1820’s proscribed free black votes by raising property requirements and essentially disenfranchising them. They fared no better in Philadelphia which Frederick Douglas referred to as the most racist city in the US.
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Wilmington, North Carolina
Where, Then, Did “Jim Crow” Come From?:
“Before the War, Savannah had Negro units in the local militia and Negro volunteer fire departments. Negro ministers preached from the pulpits of city, as well as rural, churches. Frederick Law Olmstead’s concise “Journey in the Seaboard Slave States” reported Negro passengers in the coaches of railroad train across Virginia and “Negro passengers admitted without demur.” An Englishwoman, the Hon. Miss Murray, touring prewar Alabama, wrote: “From what we hear in England, I imagined Negroes were kept at a distance. That is the case in the Northern States, but in the South they are at your elbow everywhere and always seek conversation.”
Where, then, did “Jim Crow” come from? Describing a train ride from Boston to Lowell, Massachusetts in 1842, Charles Dickens wrote: “There are no first and second class carriages with us; but there is a gentleman’s car and a ladies’ car; the main distinction between which is that, in the first, everybody smokes; and in the second, nobody does. As a black man never travels with a white one, there is also a Negro car, which is a great blundering clumsy chest such as Gulliver put to sea in from the Kingdom of Brobdignag.”
That was thirteen years after Garrison founded the “Liberator,” a few blocks from Boston’s North Station, and eight years before Mrs. Stowe would ride in the same Jim Crow’d trains to Brunswick, Maine, to start work on Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Eli Whitney had died in 1825. But the assembly line firearms he perfected “back home” in New Haven would eventually become standard equipment for Federal armies during the War. Now, in the sordid years of Reconstruction, “Jim Crow” finally migrated from Boston, too, down past Whitney’s grave….Slave ships—gin—“Uncle Tom”—Whitney & Ames rifles—Jim Crow. The Yankee cycle was complete.”
(King Cotton, George Hubert Aull, This is the South, Robert West Howard, editor, Rand McNally, 1959, pp. 145-146)