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Jim Crow Quotes

They Said It

"In this perilous world, if a black boy wanted to live a halfway normal life and die a natural death he had to learn early the art of how to get along with white folks."

- Benjamin Mays, recalling his childhood in rural South Carolina86
"They don't sing as they used to [an Atlanta white woman told a northern visitor]. You should have known the old darkeys of the plantation. Every year, it seems to me, they have been losing more and more of their carefree good humour. I sometimes feel that I don't know them any more.... [T]hey have grown so glum and serious that I'm free to say I'm scared of them!"

- Henry Watterson, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, 190887
"It was like a call to arms—you just couldn't let go. You weren't watching people ride, you were riding with them and you weren't riding with them to rescue somebody but you were riding on a stern determination for vengeance."

- A white moviegoer recalls his experience viewing D.W. Griffith's film, The Birth of a Nation, c. 191588
"Some people were crying. You could hear people say, 'Oh, God' and some 'd--n...' You had the worst feeling in the world. You just felt like you were not counted, out of existence. But I tell you, I just felt like there could have been some way so they couldn't see me so I could kill some of them. I just felt like going out to kill every white person I saw in the world."

- William Walker, recalling his initial reaction to the film The Birth of a Nation, which he viewed in a "colored-only" theater in 191689
"My object is to teach the North, the young North, what it has never known—the awful suffering of the white man during the dreadful Reconstruction period. I believe that Almighty God anointed the white men of the South by their suffering during that time immediately after the Civil War to demonstrate to the world that the white man must and shall be supreme."

- Thomas Dixon, Jr., the author of The Clansman, describes his motives for writing the novel, which director D. W. Griffith later adapted for his film The Birth of a Nation90
"Hundreds of Kodaks clicked all morning at the scene of the lynching. People in automobiles and carriages came from miles around to view the corpse dangling from the end of a rope.... Picture card photographers installed a portable printing plant at the bridge and reaped a harvest in selling postcards showing a photograph of the lynched Negro. Women and children were there by the score. At a number of country schools the day's routine was delayed until boy and girl pupils could get back from viewing the lynched man."

- A newspaper account of the scene at the lynching of Thomas Brooks in Fayette County, Tennessee, 191591
"I am a white man, but today is one day that I am certainly sorry that I am one. I am disgusted with my country."

- A disturbed spectator at the lynching of Jesse Washington, 191692
"A colored man cannot get any charge made against a white man here.... They take the colored man and send him to the penitentiary and the law is not executed on the white man at all. We well have to have some protection or else go away from here."

- Jane and Minnie Evans complain of the legal process in Waynesboro, Mississippi, c. 190093
"The touchstone of fraternity was my feeling toward white people, how much hostility I held toward them, what degrees of value and honor I assigned to race. None of this was premeditated, but sprang spontaneously out of the talk of black boys who met at the crossroads."

- Author Richard Wright describes coming of age in Mississippi during the early twentieth century94
"[A]s you grow a little older, you begin to feel that you are under siege."

- Theodore Roosevelt Davidson describes coming of age in the Jim Crow South95
"I got to keep moving, I got to keep movingBlues falling down like hailBlues falling down like hailMmm mmm, blues falling down like hailBlues falling down like hailAnd the day keeps on worryin' meThere's a hellhound on my trail,Hellhound on my trail,Hellhound on my trail."

- Bluesman Robert Johnson, 193696
"[I]f you don't make enough to have some left you ain't done nothin, except given the other fellow your labor. That crop out there goin' to prosper enough for him to get his and get what I owe him; he's making his profit but he ain't going to let me rise…. The white man g'tting' all he lookin' for, all he put out in the spring, g'tting' it all back in the fall. But what am I g'tting' for my labor? I ain't g'tting' nothin'."

- Ned Cobb, a black Alabama sharecropper97
"De big bee suck de blossom,De little bee make de honey,De black man makes de cotton and corn,And de white man totes de money."

- One version of a song sung by black field hands in the Jim Crow South98
"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."

- W. E. B. Du Bois reflecting on being black in America in the early twentieth century99
"I have always been made sad when I have heard members of any race claiming rights and privileges, or certain badges of distinction, on the ground simply that they were members of this or that race, regardless of their own individual worth or attainments. I have been made to feel sad for such persons because I am conscious of the fact that mere connection with what is known as a superior race will not permanently carry an individual forward unless he has individual worth, and mere connection with what is regarded as an inferior race will not finally hold an individual back if he possesses intrinsic, individual merit."

- Black leader Booker T. Washington in his autobiography Up From Slavery100
"Is it possible, and probable, that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most meager chance for developing their exceptional men? If history and reason give any distinct answer to these questions, it is an emphatic No."

- W. E. B. Du Bois101
"I am a colored young man in need of a position because I have a family to support and I am out of a job and I can't get nothing to do to support them."

- Cleveland Galliard, an African-American resident of Mobile, Alabama, in a letter to the Bethlehem Association of Chicago, April 1917102
"I want to know if [there] is any way you can oblige me by helping me to get out there as I am anxious to leave here and everything so hard here. I hope you will oblige in helping me to leave here. Answer at once."

- Mrs. J. H. Adams, an African-American resident of Macon, Georgia, in a letter to the Bethlehem Association of Chicago, April 1918103
"[Jim] Jeffries's blows had no steam behind them. So, how could he hope to defeat me? With the exception of a slight cut on my lower lip, which was really caused by an old wound being struck, I am unmarked. I heard people at the ringside remark about body blows being inflicted upon me. I do not recall a single punch in the body that caused me any discomfort. I am in shape to battle again tomorrow if it were necessary."

- Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson describing his victory over Jim Jeffries, the white fighter expected to strip Johnson of his title, July 1910104

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