The 'New Jim Crow' Is Nothing Like the 'Old Jim Crow'
(AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
The 'New Jim Crow' Is Nothing Like the 'Old Jim Crow'
(AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
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Joe Biden thinks Georgia’s new voting integrity law is “Jim Crow on steroids.”

Stacey Abrams says the voting law changes are “a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie."

And now House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has added his partisan hyperbole to the fight, telling Jake Tapper at CNN that yes, he sees Georgia’s new law as “the new Jim Crow.”

With all due respect, Clyburn needs glasses as badly as Biden needs a history book.  As for the ambitious Abrams, she’s said to be testing whether the “new Jim Crow” claim is a campaign theme she can exploit to become governor of Georgia.

But sorry.

What the Republicans running the Peach State are allegedly doing to “suppress” has little in common with the “old Jim Crow.” Requiring an ID for absentee voters is not voter repression or intimidation. Neither is preventing campaign operatives from giving water or other snacks to voters waiting in line at polling places or asking early voters to get their votes in earlier so they can be counted by Election Day.

No one should pretend that the Republican politicians in Georgia and other red states who are tightening and securing their voting laws have put aside their own interests. But by calling it “Jim Crow 2.0” Georgia Democrats and the woke liberal media are committing a gross and misleading exaggeration for their own partisan purposes and showing their ignorance of history.

They are also diminishing the oppressive and dehumanizing awfulness of the “old Jim Crow,” America’s 70-year regional experiment in apartheid. The racist white Democrats in charge of 17 Jim Crow states used local and state laws to create and perpetuate a separate, unequal and parallel society that prohibited blacks from interacting with whites in public and private spaces.

When it came to elections, they didn’t mess around. They openly used violence, intimidation and any devious government means necessary to systematically prevent millions of blacks in the South from voting or even registering.

President Biden, Abrams, Clyburn -- and the liberal journalists who don’t challenge their serial sightings of “the new Jim Crow” -- need to remember what obstacles to voting millions of blacks actually faced from 1890 to 1965. For the record, the American Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee lists eight ways they were kept from voting in the Jim Crow South:

1) Violence: Blacks who tried to vote were threatened, beaten, and killed.  Their families were also harmed.  Sometimes their homes were burned down.  Often, they lost their jobs or were thrown off their farms.

Whites used violence to intimidate blacks and prevent them from even thinking about voting. Still, some blacks passed the requirements to vote and took the risk. Some whites used violence to punish those “uppity” ones and show other blacks what would happen to them if they followed suit.

2) Literacy tests: Today almost all adults can read.  One hundred years ago, however, many people – black and white – were illiterate.  Most illiterate people were not allowed to vote. A few were allowed if they could understand what was read to them.  White officials usually claimed that whites could understand what was read. They said blacks could not, even when they clearly could.

3) Property tests: In the South 100 years ago, many states allowed only property owners to vote.  Many blacks and whites had no property and thus were prohibited.

4) Grandfather clause: People who could not read and owned no property were allowed to vote if their fathers or grandfathers had voted before 1867.  Of course, practically no blacks could vote before 1867, so the grandfather clause worked only for whites.

5) All-white primary elections: In the United States, there are usually two rounds of elections: first the primary, then the general. In the South from about 1900 to about 1960, the Democratic primary winner was almost always elected. (See the exhibit “Political Parties in Black and White to learn the reason for this.)  This means that the Democratic primary election was usually the only one that mattered.

African Americans were not allowed to vote in Democratic primaries. White Democrats said  their party was a “club” and did not allow black members.  So blacks could not vote in the only contests that mattered.

6) Purges: From time to time, white officials took people’s names off the official lists of voters. Some voters would arrive at the polls and find that they were not registered to vote. Often they could not register again until after the election.  Purges more often affected more blacks than whites.

7) Former prisoners: People who had gone to prison were often not allowed to vote. Blacks were very often arrested on trumped-up charges or for minor offenses. Sometimes, white owners of mines, farms, and factories simply needed cheap labor, and prisons provided it. This law kept many more blacks from voting than whites.

8) Poll taxes: In Southern states, people had to pay a tax to cast a ballot. The taxes were about $25 to $50 in today’s money. Many people had extremely low incomes and could not afford this amount. The poll tax applied to all people who wanted to vote – black and white.  There were ways for whites to get around other laws, but not around the poll tax. 

The “old Jim Crow” era of legalized segregation is said to have ended in 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed and blacks in the South could vote without fear. The American Black Holocaust Museum does a fine job of showing how shamefully unjust, unequal and demeaning the Jim Crow system was for blacks.

But it also argues that today’s laws and customs “make it difficult or impossible for many black citizens and other minorities to vote.” It thinks felons should be able to cast ballots and complains that black and Latino voters are often still unfairly purged from voter rolls.

It also has a convoluted explanation for why the bureaucratic process of getting government-issued IDs is like a poll tax that discriminates against poor, black, brown and old people.

The museum makes a mistake to agree so closely with liberal black activists and the Democrat Party on these voting integrity issues, but it has the good sense not to call Georgia's new voting law “Jim Crow on steroids.”

Steigerwald is the author of the 2021 ebook “Undercover in the Land of Jim Crow” and “30 Days a Black Man,” both of which deal with the country-waking undercover journalism mission into the Jim Crow South that a star white reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette made in 1948. Ray Sprigle's trip and his subsequent syndicated newspaper series shocked the white North, angered the white South and pleased millions of blacks and the NAACP.



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