Study Guide

Jim Crow People

  • Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice

    Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice (1808–1860) was an aspiring white actor from New York who gained notoriety in the 1830s when he delivered a performance in blackface before a theater audience in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

    Blackface was makeup, initially burnt cork or coal, applied to the faces and limbs of white performers to give them an exaggeratedly Black appearance—far darker than African Americans. Rice's "Jim Crow" song and dance won rave reviews from white audiences in major cities throughout the North.

    By the early 1900s, "Jim Crow"—the name of Thomas "Daddy" Rice's blackface character—described the institutional segregation in place in the American South. To this day, it's unclear why this elaborate system of racial separation became synonymous with Rice's minstrel routine. It's possible that whites in the early-20th century, still preferring the image of the jovial, gimpy slave to more sober and truthful representations of Blacks, found the phrase useful for referring to such laws.

  • Thomas Dixon, Jr.

    Thomas Dixon, Jr. (1864–1946) was a North Carolina Baptist minister, a statesman, a playwright, and an author best known for his Trilogy of Reconstruction

    The series of best-selling novels romanticized the antebellum South and portrayed Radical Reconstruction as a chaotic period in which unscrupulous freed slaves and their Northern white accomplices rode roughshod over Southern white society, destroying political, social, and cultural institutions.

    In 1905, Dixon published the second novel in his Reconstruction trilogy, The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. Dixon wrote it "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." 

    Ten years later, director D. W. Griffith adapted the bestseller for his grandiose film, The Birth of a Nation, which became a national box-office hit and led to a real-life resurgence of the KKK throughout the United States.

  • Booker T. Washington

    Booker T. Washington (1856–1915) was an African-American educator, writer, orator, and prominent leader of the African-American community. Washington grew up a slave on a plantation in Virginia, deprived of the opportunity to attend school. After gaining freedom, Washington dedicated himself to academics. 

    He attended the Hampton Normal & Agricultural Institute, earning high marks. Shortly after graduating, he returned to the Hampton as an instructor. The institute's president admired Washington's hard work and recommended him to become the head of a new vocational school in Tuskegee, Alabama. 

    Washington, at the age of 25, accepted the position and remained there for the rest of his life. Throughout his career, he built an interracial national network of educators, businessmen, religious leaders, and politicians who supported his conservative approach to the quest for racial equality.

    On September 18th, 1895, Booker T. Washington delivered his "Atlanta Address" at the Cotton States and International Exposition. Before an audience comprised mostly of whites, Washington urged full cooperation between the two races, noting that "in all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."

  • W.E.B. Du Bois

    W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963) was an African-American writer, historian, educator, and civil rights activist. During his life, Du Bois published thousands of articles, essays, and books, most of them on the topic of race relations in America. 

    He also helped found the Niagara Movement in 1905 and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. Under his leadership, both organizations worked to improve the lives of African Americans and fought for equal rights for people of all races. Du Bois died in 1963 at the age of 95, one day before civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington.

    W. E. B. Du Bois' best-known work is still his collection of autobiographical essays entitled The Souls of Black Folk (1903). Du Bois penned the book after spending years living and teaching in the Jim Crow South. His reflections on race relations in the post-Civil War South and his sharp critique of Booker T. Washington remain some of the most powerful pages written about this period in American history. 

    Yet, in the early-20th century, it was Washington's moderate stance on race relations, and not Du Bois' radical activism, that won the support of the vast majority of African Americans.

  • Jack Johnson

    John Arthur "Jack" Johnson (1878–1946) was an African-American boxer and the first Black athlete to earn the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World, which he held from 1908 to 1915. He's also, arguably, the first true pop culture icon, a superstar both beloved and reviled by millions of people during the height of his fame.

    Jack Johnson was born and raised in Galveston, Texas in the heart of the Jim Crow South. He began his boxing career as a teen, fighting first against Black opponents and later—once he'd built his reputation as an unbeatable contestant—against professional white boxers. He pummeled the best of the best among white athletes, much to the dismay of many a white boxing fan, ultimately becoming the first Black athlete to earn the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World in 1908. 

    In addition, Johnson managed to not only beat but also humiliate Jim Jeffries, the undefeated fighter who came out of retirement hoping to reclaim the title for the white race. Johnson stuck fear and loathing into the hearts of some and hope and pride into the hearts of others.