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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow


4 episodes, 56 minutes each
Source: California Newsreel

As Reconstruction ended, the efforts of African Americans to assert their rights began to be repressed. Whites succeeded in passing laws that segregated and disenfranchised African Americans, which they enforced with violence. This era, and the laws that defined it, is called Jim Crow.

  1. Promises Betrayed (1865-1896)
    The first episode begins with the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction—periods that held so much promise for free black men and women. But as the North gradually withdrew its support for black aspirations for land, civil and political rights, and legal due process, Southern whites succeeded in passing laws that segregated and disenfranchised African Americans--laws that were reinforced with violence and terror. Promises Betrayed recounts the black response by documenting the work of such leaders as activist/separatist Benjamin “Pap” Singleton and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells, as well as the emergence of Booker T. Washington as a national figure.

  2. Fighting Back (1896-1917)
    The second episode explores the dramatic rise of a successful black middle class and the determination of white supremacists to destroy this fledgling black political power. Through the efforts of men and women like educator Charlotte Hawkins Brown, African Americans continued to move forward. Black artists created new genres of American music and an intellectual elite, personified by the pioneering W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois, a charter member of the newly founded National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was the editor of its magazine, The Crisis. This episode ends with the violence at home giving way to warfare abroad as thousands of black Americans leave to fight on the battlefields of World War I.

  3. Don’t Shout Too Soon (1918-1940)
    The third episode chronicles the years 1918-1940, the years between the two World Wars, a time of increased mob violence, lynching, and massacres of blacks. White supremacy was kept in place by terrorism, but three men, members of the fledgling NAACP, led campaigns to confront these threats. W.E.B. Du Bois called for veterans of World War I to “return fighting.” Walter White investigated the rapes and insurrections allegedly committed by blacks. Charles Hamilton Houston designed and successfully applied a legal strategy that challenged Jim Crow and resulted in the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision, which desegregated public schools in 1954.

  4. Terror and Triumph (1940-1954)
    The fourth episode examines the surge of black activism that took place after World War II. Prolonged legal battles led to Supreme Court decisions that opened doors and restored voting rights for African Americans. The battle for freedom, dignity, and opportunity throughout America continued through the 50s and 60s—and continues today.

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