views updated May 23 2018


Social structural factors

Patterns of racial and ethnic segregation

Ideological bases of segregation

Segregation and prejudice


Segregation is an institutionalized form of social distance expressed in physical separation. It signifies a convergence of physical and social space and is to be distinguished from other social forms which also structure social distance in spatial terms, as, for example, the elaborate patterns of deference in African societies with sacred kingship or the different levels of seating (reflecting caste status) among Singhalese castes. The latter regulate social relationships between persons in situations of contact; segregation refers primarily to the separation of persons and the avoidance of contact.

Systems of segregation vary in the criteria which distinguish the segregated groups, whether biological, cultural, and/or status, and in the situations, or roles, which are segregated. Segregated roles may vary in extensiveness (extreme separation being represented by indirect rule in colonial society), in type (the intimate roles of primary relationships or the more impersonal roles in secondary relationships), and in the relative level of the actors (for example, where equal-status contacts are proscribed but dominant-subordinate contacts are fostered, as in racial segregation, or apartheid, in South Africa). Segregative systems may also be distinguished as compulsory or voluntary, as deliberate or spontaneous, and as influenced positively by attraction or negatively by disdain. Compulsory segregation involves deliberation and invidious distinction and serves the interests of those who impose it.

Although segregation imposes separation of persons and groups, it is by no means the antithesis of societal integration. The segregation of units may be a basis for integration, as in traditional Indian caste society, where a consensual basis for segregation was derived partly from shared religious values. Indeed, segregation may be conceived of as a general, although not a universal, aspect of social organization. It defines the boundaries between groups, locates the groups in the hierarchy, and regulates their interaction. Because of the intimate relationship of segregation to systems of domination, it is often highly resistant to change and readily becomes a focus of political conflict.

Sociological approaches. Early sociological concern with segregation derived in part from interest in the processes of social interaction (segregation being conceived of as “dissociative,” in terms of a model of “attraction-repulsion” or “association-dissociation”) but mainly from ecological studies, under the influence of animal and plant ecologists, geographers, and the theory of social Darwinism. The initial emphasis on the biotic approach stressed the subsocial elements in human society, with the corollary, explicit or implied, that segregation was a natural phenomenon; there was the same implication in the concept of natural areas [seeREGION].

By contrast, the cultural approach, which developed in criticism of the biotic, stresses the influence of values on the spatial distribution of urban populations, especially the role of prejudice and discrimination in the segregation of ethnic and racial groups. Sociologists share with social psychologists and political scientists an interest in the psychological consequences of segregation as it affects the processes of prejudice, consensus, and political cleavage. And this interest has been further stimulated by the struggle for desegregation in the United States—a major focus of the movement to secure effective civil rights for Negroes–and by the threat of racial civil war in South Africa, which has a regime of systematic racial and ethnic segregation.

Social structural factors

Segregation, being an aspect of social structure, varies in its incidence and nature with the type of society. It hardly exists in relatively undifferentiated societies, such as those of the Bushmen; and the term is not really applicable to the divisions between kin groups in segmented societies, which constitute separate rather than segregated units, loosely federated in certain situations.

Social differentiation. While segregation is associated with social differentiation, there does not appear to be a precise relationship between the two. Segregation may be highly elaborated both in societies where the division of labor is not greatly advanced and in modern industrialized societies. Thus, segregation is a basic principle of organization in the village communities of Indian caste society, where it regulates residence, access to amenities, and contact between the castes and where it receives ritual reinforcement in patterns of avoidance sanctioned by the threat of pollution. It is found in many “preindustrial” cities in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and in the Muslim cities of north Africa, where ethnic and religious particularism may be manifested in separate quarters of the city as well as in occupational specialization. And it is characteristic of the most industrialized metropolitan cities of North America, in which there is extensive segregation of Negroes in residence, worship, education, and social intercourse. Nor does it seem that progressive industrialization will necessarily dissolve ethnic and religious particularisms that are irrelevant to the industrial process and replace them by distinctions resting on more universal criteria of qualification and achievement. This may be the trend within industry, but there is a continuing relevance of ethnic and religious identification as bases of association in the cities and in the extensive movement of urban populations to the suburbs.

Social stratification. The relationship between segregation and rigidity of social structure is equally complex. Segregation is characteristic of societies with complex class systems, although the ecological patterns of class segregation vary and a central city location may distinguish the upper classes in one society, the lower classes in another. There may be extensive segregation of roles in a class system, where residential segregation lays the foundations for segregation in education, religion, and recreation. But the barriers are much more permeable than in caste systems; in fact, in these two systems there is a direct relationship between the rigidity of the system of stratification and the rigidity of the system of segregation. This relationship, however, does not hold for the slave plantations, in which the extreme of social distance was nevertheless compatible with intimate contact. Segregation is one of many forms of institutionalized social distance and not in itself a precise indicator of social structure.


Plural societies have an affinity for segregation, especially when the social cleavages between racial, ethnic, or tribal groups are associated with cultural differences, as in the colonial societies of Africa. The policies of the metropolitan powers imply different policies toward segregation. In theory, Africans who acquire Portuguese or French culture may move freely in the circles of the conquerors, acculturation bridging the social cleavages between them. The British theory of indirect rule, by contrast, maintains the separation between the races by a system of parallel institutions, which extends to the courts of law; legal and other dualisms help maintain cultural diversity, and acculturation does not qualify individual Africans to cross the barriers of segregation and racial cleavage. In South Africa, a system of parallel institutions and consequent segregation serve to foster nationalism among the Afrikaans-speaking white population and to segregate racial, ethnic, and tribal groups under the policy of apartheid.

Patterns of racial and ethnic segregation

Different historical circumstances influence the patterns of segregation between the races. For example, after the conquest of Algiers the French settled inside the depopulated city, whereas in the protectorate of Morocco, which was constituted by treaty with the sultan, they established separate cities adjacent to the Muslim cities (Le Tourneau 1957, pp. 112–113). Segregation is also affected by the extent and nature of administrative regulation. In British and French west Africa, racial segregation was social and customary; in the Belgian Congo and southern Africa, it was legally imposed and sanctioned. In South Africa it is systematized under town plans, which tend to reserve the core of the towns for whites and to move nonwhites to the periphery or beyond or to establish them in satellite towns.

Colonial Africa. Whatever the colonial policy, the historical conditions, or the administrative framework, the general pattern in colonial Africa is one of racial segregation, and in east Africa and South Africa it extends also to intermediate groups such as Indians. The generality of racial segregation in colonial Africa flows from the convergence of many different types of social distance, based on race, power, class, and culture. Inevitably, the lower classes on the fringes of urban life (the so-called sous-proletariat) who live in the improvised shanty towns, or bidonvilles, are recruited from the population of the colonized, and the residents of upper-class neighborhoods are the colonizers. Cultural differences extend racial separation to many institutional spheres. Even in shared institutions (as in the conversion to Christianity), ideologies of domination or sentiments of superiority fuse with cultural and racial differences to create varied and intricate patterns of integration and segregation, including, in extreme cases, reinterpretation of the communion with Christ.

Tribal segregation. Tribal segregation in colonial society is less general and more varied in its forms. In the old cities of Africa, uncontrolled residential patterns permitted tribal concentrations. In the new cities, housing policy, control over the influx of migrants, and the demand for housing all affected the possibility of tribal segregation. In some areas it was discouraged by indifference to tribal affiliation in the allocation of housing; in others, though less often, it was the principle which governed the allocation. Sometimes housing policy and social conditions were sufficiently flexible to permit a measure of voluntary tribal segregation. The relations between tribal hinterland and city, tribal composition and relative concentration or dominance of different tribes, extent and organization of industry, and political structure all have a bearing on the incidence of tribal segregation. Cultural differences encourage the spread of tribal segregation into a variety of institutions, as shown for example in the establishment of separate mosques by many tribal groups in Freetown, Sierra Leone (Banton 1957, p. 137). In general, the acquisition by different tribesmen of elements of a common culture in the urban setting and through the schools, as well as their common subordination to the colonial power and the processes of restratiflcation, reduce the relevance of tribal affiliation and provide new bases of association.

African independence may have different consequences for racial and tribal segregation. In the case of racial segregation, the policy of Africanization is designed to effect desegregation, at any rate in the more public spheres of life; indeed, it may carry the process to the point of an African imposition of exclusiveness. In the case of tribal segregation, there is the bond of common race to bring tribesmen together, and the cultural differences between the tribes are more readily bridged than those between the races. But under some conditions of social structure, that is, where organization of the tribal unit offers access to power, the political struggle after independence may give enhanced significance to tribal affiliation and association.

United States

Segregation in the United States has rested on such varied aspects of pluralism as race, ethnic background, religion, and culture, or combinations of these, in association with class differences. It is most resistant to change in the case of Negroes. Cultural differences between Negroes and native-born white Americans are not marked. The basis of segregation is the general interaction of lower-class status and invidiously defined racial status. Differences in racial status are institutionalized in the structure and culture of the society, although ambiguously, since this conflicts with the democratic ethos. Persons of low racial status have little access to opportunity for achievement, because of segregation in poor neighborhoods and inferior schools and concentration in manual and unskilled occupations. Conversely, the relatively lower levels of achievement reinforce the depreciation of the Negro’s racial status.

The mechanisms of this racial segregation vary. In the South, the enactment of laws to enforce segregation was encouraged by the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537, 1896), which held that the provision of separate but equal facilities was not a violation of the right to equal protection of the law under the fourteenth amendment to the constitution. But compulsory segregation did not include racial zoning (in contrast to South Africa), since the Supreme Court refused to accept the doctrine of “separate but equal” as legitimizing residential segregation. In the North, convention, restrictive covenants, discriminatory housing policies, poor wages, and the continued movement of new migrants into low rental areas of established Negro settlement all contributed to a high level of residential segregation, which provided the core for extensive institutional segregation in education, religion, and politics. With the removal of many of the legal supports of racial segregation, pursuant to decisions of the Supreme Court, and despite the official policies of the federal government and a number of states and cities, segregation is still carried forward by various deliberate means, such as the controls applied by boards of realtors, as well as by its own momentum and the consequences of past segregation. Since Negroes were largely excluded from the movement to the suburbs, the central core cities in the great metropolitan areas become increasingly nonwhite as the racially segregated urban populations receive the new Negro and other colored migrants.

Ethnic groups

The patterns of ethnic segregation in the United States are similar to those of racial segregation. Foreign migrants establish themselves in central city areas, in zones of transition, and in the interstices of the city, where they create “Little Sicilies” or Jewish ghettos or other incapsulated communities, which are often characterized by poverty and social disorganization. In this respect they are very similar to the racially segregated communities; however, the ethnic groups and their settlements dissolve more readily in the environing society under the conditions of immense growth and vastly expanding opportunities experienced in the United States. Cultural differences diminish as the political and economic institutions, the schools, and mass media powerfully shape a common culture. With the passing of time, ethnic background tends to become detached from social class and culture. It still remains relevant for association or exclusion, and ethnic enclaves persist and are tranported to new suburbs. But ethnic segregation becomes less general than racial segregation, less discriminatory, and less extensive in the range of roles affected (being emphasized more in primary than secondary relationships). Some ethnic identities have merged into an upper stratum of Anglo-Saxon and north European American identity. Religious identity— that of Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Jew— subsumes in some respects the ethnic identity, replacing its exclusive particularism with a more general principle of association.

Comparison of racial and cultural criteria. Comparison of Negro and Puerto Rican segregation in New York City, as it develops over the years, may provide some measure of the relative emphasis on racial and ethnic background in the integration of groups into North American society; however, interpretation is rendered difficult by an admixture of color in the Puerto Rican migration, and by the very different significance, history, and organization of the two groups in the wider society. Probably the situation of Negroes in the United States is unique, and their former slave status may be as relevant as their racial origin.

In England, there are appreciable numbers of colored people who entered the country after World War II; although they constitute little more than 1 per cent of the population, their presence has created an awareness of a color problem. Since they are of varied cultural background (mainly from India, Pakistan, and the West Indies), comparative analysis may yield some insight into both the role of race and of cultural differences in the exclusion and segregation of minority groups in England. If English prejudice against people of other races is only an expression of a more general xenophobia, and not specifically racial prejudice, as some English sociologists maintain, then it follows that cultural difference should be the crucial variable in the exclusion of strangers. The evidence indicates some residential concentration of immigrant groups, whether colored or not, in different boroughs of London, and some dense clusters of colored groups, but also much dispersion. There is exclusion of colored people in primary relationships, much discrimination in rented accommodations, and some discrimination in employment (Glass 1960; Davison 1963; Deakin 1964). But citizenship rights may be fully exercised, regardless of race, and such public amenities as transport are not segregated.

The relations between race, culture, and segregation are, no doubt, indeterminate; they vary in different social contexts and historical situations. Segregation is by no means a universal corollary of racial differentiation. Racial difference may be relevant for social stratification, but expressed little, or not at all, in segregation; or its relevance may be indirect, that is, resting on association with class and cultural differences (the seemingly biological description of groups referring to sociocultural distinctions, as in Mexico); or the reality of racial difference may be submerged in a social myth of racial homogeneity, as in Argentina (Beals 1955; Taeuber & Taeuber 1965; Schnore Evenson 1966).

Since racial segregation rests on relatively enduring characteristics, it is likely to be highly persistent, once it becomes established and linked with structures of domination. But even this is not certain. Residential and other forms of segregation by race may rapidly disappear with sharp changes in the structure of power, as is to be anticipated in the independent states of Africa.

Ideological bases of segregation

After World War II, movements for racial desegregation were stimulated both by changes in the internal structure of the societies in which they arose and by the changed relationship between white and nonwhite peoples in the world structure of power. The emancipation of colonial peoples is essentially an emancipation of nonwhites from white domination. Concerned with eliminating the racial discrimination they suffer in their own countries, they are affronted by its practice in other countries. Since the distribution of races crosses national boundaries, movements for racial desegregation acquire international significance. It becomes increasingly difficult to justify racial segregation as ideologies of segregation are undermined by a world ethos of universal human rights.

Religious doctrines. Ideologies of segregation form around major social values. They may be expressed in religious terms. Thus the concept of pollution regulates contact and avoidance in a most extensive range of roles by supernatural sanctions and by sentiments of deep revulsion for defiling contacts. Doctrines of predestination afford justification for controlling level of contact and for discriminating against persons who are not members of the elect; they may also serve for an extensive regulation of roles.

Resentment of invidious status under theories of predestination may provoke countertheories which emphasize reversal of status. In some of the African Zionist and messianic movements, it is the black prophet who seeks a “New Jerusalem” on earth for the chosen African people or closes the gates of heaven against the white man. In the racially exclusive religious movement known as the Nation of Islam, American Negroes may find eschatological vindication of their race and a rationale in divine destiny for a policy of territorial separation (Lincoln 1961).

Doctrines of racial predestination are not easily maintained in Christian churches, where they are almost universally disavowed. They may reappear, however, in doctrines which enjoin separation, although they abandon the invidious racial distinctions in deference to the world ethos of human equality. In one variant, the existence of separate races is taken as evidence of “divine providence” and of a religious duty to preserve racial separation by avoidance of contacts which might lead to the intermingling of races and loss of racial purity.

Natural instinct theory of segregation

Scientific ideologies rest on assumptions as to the nature of man and of human society. The assumed ubiquity of racial segregation is often taken as evidence that it derives from the instinctive nature of man. There are similar implications, though without racial connotation, in the concept of the fight for “turf” as the human counterpart of the animal instinct for “territory.” A natural instinct theory of racial segregation may serve as an ideology for compulsory segregation, which is thus conceived as consonant with the true nature of man; or it may serve as a defense against compulsory segregation, since the natural proclivity of races to segregate themselves would render compulsion redundant.

Measurement of segregation. The prevalence of racial segregation cannot be doubted, although there is little precise information as to its extent. Segregation may be measured statistically by an index of dissimilarity in the spatial distribution of two groups, or by indexes of segregation, which calculate either the difference between the distribution of one group and all other groups or the deviation from a postulated norm of even distribution. Moreover, an index of segregation may be combined with other measures, such as social rank and urbanization, to yield an urban typology, as in “social area analysis” (Shevsky & Bell 1955).

There are difficulties in the use of these measures of segregation. They are relative to the system of area units used, whether blocks or census tracts; they leave out of account the presence of segregated clusters within units, since they are based on the assumed homogeneity of these units; they may be affected by the relative proportion of the segregated group in the total population; and they measure the results of a complex of factors, not only the influence of the racial factor in segregation (Duncan & Duncan 1955, pp. 215–217). Furthermore, they impose the need for surveys to collect the basic data in countries which do not take a census of their populations or do not inquire into racial identity. But they do provide a basis for comparing racial segregation in different societies and for estimating its extent. In the absence of reliable comparative data from countries other than the United States, in which these measures have been widely used, assertions as to the generality and extent of racial segregation rest on impression.

Other forms of ideological defense

Other forms of scientific ideology postulate the inevitability of conflict in the contact between peoples of different culture or race and hence the necessity for avoiding contact. Or they assert, as a corollary of the natural instinct theory of segregation, that racially mixed areas are inherently unstable and tend to revert to the segregated state. In this conception, when members of a subordinate race “invade” the residential area of the dominant race, the residential cycle ends in a racially segregated area for the invading group, since the original residents evacuate their homes; thus invasion becomes succession. In capitalist society, the protection of property rights and values may provide an ideological defense against desegregation. Prohibition of racial segregation in the leasing or selling of property may be represented as an infringement or diminution of rights of ownership and desegregation as a threat to property values under an assumption of inevitable depreciation.

Refutation of the theoretical assumptions in these ideologies involves the demonstration of contrary cases of stable racial intermingling, of contact without conflict, and of the maintenance, and indeed enhancement, of property values. This type of analysis rejects categorical assumptions as to the nature of man and society and focuses on the conditions which give rise to racial segregation or those which favor the intermingling of races or promote desegregation.

Segregation and prejudice

Desegregation may be effected by revolutionary changes in the structure of the society, as in many parts of Africa, or it may be sought within the existing structure by action against prejudice and discrimination. Segregation is not necessarily associated with prejudice, since it may be maintained by the institutions of society, independently of the attitudes of individuals. But in general, systems of segregation draw support from the prejudices of individuals and indeed foster those prejudices. In situations of systematic racial segregation which permit contact only on a basis of inequality, the routine experience of racial superiority may be expected to intensify sentiments of superiority and sentiments supportive of segregation; these sentiments in turn seek expression in further segregation, so that the levels of both prejudice and segregation are raised by their mutual interaction. Conversely, under certain conditions the experience of contact on a basis of equality may undermine prejudice and weaken the support for segregation. Studies of interracial housing projects in the United States have shown the influence of residential proximity, official policy, and perceived social climate in creating more favorable attitudes (Deutsch … Collins 1951; Wilner et al. 1955). Action programs to promote racial harmony and equality may emphasize desegregation, since racial segregation is mostly overt and public and hence amenable to control by legislation and administrative regulation and since attitudes may be modified by changing the context and experience of race relations.

Leo Kuper

[Directly related are the entriesHousing; Minorities; Prejudice; Region. Other relevant material may be found inCaste; Ethnic Groups; Sects And Cults; Status, Social; Stratification, Social, article on The Structure OF Stratification Systems.]


Banton, Michael 1957 West African City: A Study of Tribal Life in Freetown. Oxford Univ. Press.

Beals, Ralph L. 1955 Indian-Mestizo-White Relations in Spanish America. Pages 412–432 in Conference on Race Relations in World Perspective, Honolulu, 1954, Race Relations in World Perspective: Papers .... Edited by Andrew W. Lind. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press.

Davison, R. B. 1963 The Distribution of Immigrant Groups in London. Race 5, no. 2:56–59.Deakin, Nicholas 1964 Residential Segregation in Britain: A Comparative Note. Race 6, no. 1:18–26.

Deutsch, Morton; and Collins, Mary E. 1951 Interracial Housing: A Psychological Evaluation of a Social Experiment. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

Drake, ST. Clair; and Cayton, Horace R. (1945) 1962 Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. 2 vols., rev. & enl. New York: Harcourt.

Duncan, Otis Dudley; Cuzzort, Ray P.; and Duncan, Beverly 1961 Statistical Geography: Problems in Analyzing Areal Data. New York: Free Press.

Duncan, Otis Dudley; and Duncan, Beverly 1955 A Methodological Analysis of Segregation Indexes. American Sociological Review 20:210–217.

Freeman, Linton C.; and Pilger, John 1964 Segregation: A micro-measure Based Upon Compactness. Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Residential Segregation Study [1964], October 19.

Freeman, Linton C.; and Pilger, John 1965 Segregation: A Micro-measure Based Upon Well-mixedness. Syracuse University, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Residential Segregation Study [1965], February 12.

Glass, Ruth (1960) 1961 London’s Newcomers: The West Indian Migrants. Centre for Urban Studies, University College, London, Report No. 1. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → First published as Newcomers: The West Indians in London. Chapters 2 and 3 analyze geographical distribution and discrimination in housing.

Glazer, Nathan; and Moynihan, Daniel P. 1963 Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and the Irish of New York City. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

Gordon, Milton M. 1961 Assimilation in America: Theory and Reality. Tuedalus 90:263–285.

Gordon, Milton M. 1964 Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origin. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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Hodgkin, Thomas L. 1956 Nationalism in Colonial Africa. London: Muller. → Part II, Chapter 1 deals with the new towns of Africa.

Johnson, Charles S. 1943 Patterns of Negro Segregation. New York: Harper.

Kuper, Leo; Watts, Hilstan; and Davies, Ronald L. 1958 Durban: A Study in Racial Ecology. London: Cape; New York: Columbia Univ. Press. → A study of compulsory segregation in South Africa.

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views updated May 14 2018


The concept of segregation is usually based on race, gender, class, religion, or ethnicity, depending on the circumstances under which it is practiced. This entry will mainly address racial and ethnic segregation and when appropriate address how it spawned gender and class segregation in the Americas and Africa.

Segregation in the Americas

The concept of segregation in the United States was different from segregation in other parts of the Americas, although all practiced slavery that affected the indigenous population. Segregation, with the exception of the United States, was not codified into law. Throughout the colonial and slavery periods in Latin America, South America, and the Caribbean, people of European descent maintained a hierarchy based on race. They attended separate schools and churches, lived in separate neighborhoods, and used separate recreational facilities. In Brazil after slavery was abolished in 1888, segregation was not by law; however, blacks and the indigenous population were not integrated into society. The government wanted to "whiten" the population by encouraging European immigration and interracial marriages. People who were viewed as white or close to white accrued privileges from their skin color, therefore indigenous Brazilians and people of African descent remained excluded from whites. Under Brazil's racial democracy project during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was argued that Brazil did not have the same kind of racial problems as the United States because race was of little significance and people achieved social and economic mobility due to individual merit. If people of African descent were at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, it was due to poverty and past discrimination. Scholars such as Gilberto Freyre, Carl Degler, and Frank Tannenbaum contended that the Portuguese who colonized Brazil were used to black people because of their experience with the Moors. The Catholic Church encouraged slaveholders to treat the slaves with a certain amount of humanity, and miscegenation was encouraged. Critical race theorists such as Thales de Azevedo began to question the racial democracy myth during the 1970s and argued that blacks and indigenous Brazilians were segregated in society based on race and not class.

Segregation was also practiced in Canada, as illustrated by the experiences of people of African descent who fought on the side of the British during the American Revolutionary War and those who escaped through the Underground Railroad. They believed they would enjoy citizenship rights in Canada, but there were few economic and educational opportunities, and land for farming was scarce. Some blacks therefore opted for resettlement in Sierra Leone.

The concept of segregation in the United States has been defined in distinct ways, based on race and ethnicity. White Anglo-Saxon Protestant immigrants were the privileged group who wielded political, economic, and social power. Other European immigrant groups were excluded from various jobs, universities, residential neighborhoods, and recreational facilities. This segregation was not codified into law and ended as soon as these groups were considered "white" and granted citizenship.

The country was envisioned as a "white man's" country regardless of the presence of American Indians. Beginning in the early seventeenth century, Africans were brought to work first as indentured servants and then (by the 1660s) as slaves, and thousands of people from Asia emigrated to the United States in search of jobs in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Residential segregation was evident with the establishment of reservations for American Indians in 1638. People of Mexican descent experienced economic, residential, and educational segregation following the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. People of Asian descent were encouraged to immigrate to the United States for employment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nonwhite workers were relegated to unskilled jobs in factories and on sugar plantations, farms, and the railroads. They were forced to attend separate schools and live in separate neighborhoods.

Segregation in Africa

The concept of segregation in Africa will be discussed within the context of the colonial period. Segregation was defined as a hierarchy with Europeans on top; Indians, Arabs, other ethnic groups, and mixed-race people (depending on the colony) in the middle; and Africans on the bottom. In settler colonies such as South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, segregation was not solely defined in racial terms but also in ethnic, religious, and gender terms. Separate schools were maintained along religious and ethnic lines in Eritrea; Saint-Louis, Senegal, had segregated areas for Christians and Muslims; and reserves in South Africa were created along ethnic lines. Throughout southern Africa, rural areas were often disproportionately populated with women after men were forced into the urban labor market to earn wages, which left women segregated in the rural areas.

One of the most important forms of segregation found throughout Africa was residential, especially in urban areas. Cities in settler colonies were designed for Europeans and in some cases Asian and Arab merchants. The more developed parts of the city were designated for Europeans, while Africans (mostly male workers) were forced into reserves, prevented from owning freehold property, denied the franchise, and forced to carry passes. Thousands of Africans, Indians, and mixed-race people were forced out of cities in the 1950s and 1960s in South Africa and Namibia.

Ideas Surrounding Segregation

During the seventeenth century, when Europeans arrived in what later became the United States, the intellectual ideas that supported the segregation of people of European descent from the American Indians was predicated on the belief that Europeans were culturally superior. The idea that education and conversion to Christianity could civilize American Indians was abandoned because they were thought to be biologically different from whites. The segregation of American Indians must be understood in economic terms. The colonists were in competition with the American Indians for arable land in the North, and planters in the South needed large tracts of land to produce cash crops. The segregation of American Indians was justified in religious termsGod ordained whites to have the land. John Winthrop and John Cotton contended that the diseases that killed many American Indians in New England were sent by God and that this cleared the way for the whites to possess the land. The political architects who ensured the segregation of American Indians were the "founding fathers" (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe). The segregation of American Indians was justified on cultural and legal grounds by the ideology of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jacksonboth believed that American Indians were children and savages who could not survive in the larger society.

Before slavery was abolished in the United States, ideas among African-American intellectuals about segregation were mixed. Martin Delany and Edward Blyden believed that people of African descent would never be integrated into American society. Frederick Douglass believed that blacks should remain and fight for their full citizenship rights. Booker T. Washington, the most powerful African-American at the beginning of the twentieth century, endorsed social segregation. He argued that African-Americans should forego political and social equality until they achieved economic equality. At the same time, the most influential African-American intellectual, W. E. B. Du Bois, vehemently opposed Washington's views on segregation. He argued that African-Americans should demand their full economic, political, and social rights and call for an end to all forms of segregation.

The emergence of the Ku Klux Klan following the Civil War illustrated how wedded some whites were to segregation. It was formed in 1866 by Nathan Bedford Forrest, who strongly believed that the South's way of life was being undermined by the northern Republican government and the former slaves. The idea behind the Klan was to reestablish white rule in the South. The Klan was revived in 1915 by William J. Simmons, who espoused the ideas of patriotism, Protestantism, traditional American values, and American nativism. Simmons's Klan was revived within the context of large influxes of immigrants who were not Protestant or Anglo-Saxon. The Klan was revived again in 1922 under Hiram Evans, who believed white American values needed to be preserved. Later figures associated with the Klan who espoused the values of nativism and white supremacy included Robert Shelton during the 1950s and David Duke in the 1980s and 1990s.

Ideas Surrounding Segregation in Africa

Africans, Asians, Arabs, and mixed-race people in Africa were viewed through the same cultural lensEuropeans were inherently superior, and Africans were the most inferior. They were uncivilized, lazy, and childlike in their behavior. They were prone to criminal activities and therefore had to be controlled and segregated for the protection of whites. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, biology spawned ideas about race that were used to justify racial segregation in the Americas and Africa. The belief developed that there were distinct races with different levels of intelligence, capacities, and abilities guided by the laws of nature. These ideas were given scientific and academic legitimacy through the writings of historians, anthropologists, and geographers. South Africa's Howard Pim, Maurice S. Evans, Edgar H. Brookes, James Hertzog, Jan Christian Smuts, and Charles Loram advocated racial segregation. Evans studied South Africa and the United States and concluded that segregation was a good policy because it would help to ensure the survival of European civilization. Loram supported the idea of separate vocational education along the lines of Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute. Africans and people of color were viewed as unhealthy, diseased, and contaminated, and they had to be segregated from whites. Segregation was also needed for economic reasons: the African communal economy was not compatible with the European capitalist economy, so a dual economy was needed. Finally, it was thought that African and European cultures were too different to coexist. African society was "primitive," and its customs would not be able to survive contact with Europeans.

When the National Party came to power in South Africa in 1948, the ideas of apartheid, or separate development, were codified into law. The major supporters of these ideas included Daniel Malan, J. G. Strijdom, and Hendrik Verwoerd, whose campaign slogan was "the white man must remain master." The cultural ideas that espoused a racial hierarchy throughout the Americas and Africa served as the foundation for religious, political, and economic ideas that embraced segregation. Segregation was supported both in the Americas and in Africa by Christian churches, especially in South Africa by the Dutch Reformed Church (until the 1990s) and in the American South by most of the predominantly white Christian denominations (until the 1960s). Religious leaders and church members argued that the Bible upheld segregation and that forced integration was against God's will because God ordained people to live separately.

Social Movements to End Segregation

The ideas of the 1950s and 1960s that served as the catalyst to end Jim Crow segregation in the United States were not new. Intellectuals such as James Farmer, A. Philip Randolph, and Bayard Rustin supported and used the tactics of civil disobedience and mass resistance to end racial segregation. For example, James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality, used Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience in Chicago in the 1940s before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. adopted them. King's ideas of using the Christian faith, moral superiority, and moral persuasion as part of civil disobedience cannot be overlooked. King believed that unjust laws do not coincide with the law of God, therefore segregation laws, which were immoral and unjust, did not have to be obeyed. In addition, if people could not vote and did not have political representation, they were not obligated to obey unjust laws. These laws had to be overturned by just, moral means. In sum, King's ideas of mass resistance, direct action, and civil disobedience were tied to Christianity, which instructed him to love his sisters and brothers and to have faith that morality and justice would prevail in overthrowing segregation. And through the abolition of segregation, whites could achieve salvation through living up to the American creed of democracy and liberty for all.

Segregation was opposed throughout Africa, but the fight to abolish apartheid in South Africa was waged both domestically and globally. At the turn of the twentieth century Mahatma Gandhi developed nonviolent strategies to end segregation in South Africa, and he worked closely with the founders of the African National Congress (ANC), especially John Dube. Dube, along with Pixley Seme and Sol Plaatje, believed that African nationalism and unity would restore land and rights lost under European rule. Their beliefs were supported by the strategies of petitioning the British government and sending delegations to London to appeal for constitutional changes that would grant Africans their rights. Later leaders such as Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Nelson Mandela committed themselves to the idea of mass resistance and established the ANC Youth League. They believed African nationalism would lead to African self-determination and that equality and the end of apartheid would only come through the efforts of Africans. Therefore, the ideology of the ANC shifted in the 1940s from a conservative to more a radical and militant approach that would involve the masses of people instead of a few educated members of the middle class. Mandela, Sisulu, and Tambo strongly believed in mass civil disobedience, boycotts, peasant revolts, and strikes, manifested in their support of the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws in 1952, when blacks, Indians, and coloreds refused to obey laws that they found unjust.

The ideas of the ANC's main leadership further shifted in the 1960s from attempting to abolish apartheid by disciplined and nonviolent means to violent forms of resistance with the establishment of a military wing, the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). This was established only after the South African state was ruling by force and violence and ANC leaders felt that all forms of peaceful protest had been exhausted. The ideas of black consciousness espoused by Steve Biko in the 1970s were based on building strong grassroots organizations to raise awareness of the plight of black South Africans. It was his belief that only blacks could liberate themselves through a reevaluation of African history, pride, religion, and culture: out of black consciousness, black liberation could be born. In turn blacks would gain respect from other groups in society, and the apartheid system would be abolished.

The abolition of apartheid in the 1990s was based on the political ideas of a multiracial democratic South Africa espoused by Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk. The religious ideas to end apartheid came from church leaders such as Desmond Tutu and Allan Boesak, who both believed apartheid could be abolished through nonviolent means, resulting in a multiracial democratic society that granted full human rights to all citizens.

See also Apartheid ; Prejudice ; Race and Racism .


Cell, John W. The Highest Stage of White Supremacy: The Origins of Segregation in South Africa and the American South. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Fredrickson, George M. The Comparative Imagination: On the History of Racism, Nationalism, and Social Movements. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997.

Hamilton, Charles V., et al., eds. Beyond Racism: Race and Inequality in Brazil, South Africa, and the United States. Boulder, Colo., and London: Lynne Rienner, 2001.

Kirk, Joyce F. Making a Voice: African Resistance to Segregation in South Africa. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998.

Lapping, Brian. Apartheid: A History. New York: George Braziller, 1987.

Marx, Anthony W. Making Race and Nation: A Comparison of South Africa, the United States, and Brazil. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Nascimento, Abdias do, and Elisa Larkin-Nascimento. Africans in Brazil: A Pan-African Perspective. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1992.

Smith, John David. When Did Southern Segregation Begin? New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002.

Vaughan, Alden T. Roots of American Racism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Woodward, C. Vann. 1955. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. Reprint, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Cassandra Rachel Veney


views updated May 18 2018






Segregation is the practice of keeping racial and ethnic groups separated. This includes, but is not limited to, the separation of racial groups in schools, housing, public facilities, and public transportation. This separation usually involves a dominant racial-ethnic group discriminating against a subordinate racial-ethnic group, as in the U.S. South during legal segregation.

The system of legal segregation in the U.S. South was a totalitarian social system that Southern whites developed and maintained after the abolishment of slavery in 1865. The primary function was to continue the social system of servitude, the racial caste hierarchy, and the economic control of African Americans under the legal fiction of separate but equal. Legal and informal segregation practices (Jim Crow) meant comprehensive racial subordination and imposed a badge of degradation on all African Americans in many areas of the United States. The daily practice of legal segregation is a compulsory ritual denoting first and second-class citizenship. It has more than psychological and social significance, serving also the basic economic and political purpose of facilitating the exploitation of nonwhites by whites, collectively and individually (Kennedy 1959, p. 206).


The social system of legal segregation began in the late 1870s and 1880s, and there were several attempts by African Americans to challenge the laws, the violence, and the inequality that resulted from their implementation. The first challenge began with the U.S. Supreme Court case of Homer Plessy, an African American man, who refused to sit in the colored section on a train. His case went to the Supreme Court in 1896. As a result of that case, the laws of racial segregation were buttressed. The decision stipulated that laws mandating segregated areas and sections for blacks and whites, in theory, could be separate but equal.

In 1954, Thurgood Marshall, at the time a successful black attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and later U.S. Supreme Court justice, won the Brown vs. Board of Education case before the U.S. Supreme Court; the case ostensibly ended segregation in public schools. However, the laws of segregation did not come to an official end until the enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. This act resulted in large part from the nonviolent civil disobedience of the black-led civil rights movement from the 1950s to the 1970s, which included minister-leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King, famous for his I Have A Dream speech against segregation given at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1963, led the Montgomery bus boycott. Rosa Parks (19132005), a member of the NAACP, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated bus. Over decades a great many African Americans, including leaders and intellectuals such as Parks, King, Marshall, Malcolm X, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, stood up against the injustices of segregation, lynching, and civil rights violations.


Even though the official segregation system was finally outlawed by the 1968 Civil Rights Act, its reality and impact continue into the twenty-first century. The racial attitudes of whites on surveys since found that ever fewer whites publicly subscribe to the earlier views of the Jim Crow era. Nevertheless, segregated schools, neighborhoods, and churches are still prevalent. In the early twenty-first century, the United States remains racially segregated and racial equality remains more of an ideal than a reality.

The continued spatial isolation and segregation of black Americans have been achieved by a conjunction of racist attitudes, covert and overt discriminatory behaviors, and rooted institutional practices that continue to subordinate black Americans in most institutions. Social scientists have shown the serious repercussions of this for blacks and other Americans.

Social science research has also shown that racial segregation in housing and education still adversely affects the health of African Americans and other Americans of color because that segregation helps to reinforce institutional segregation in yet other institutional areas. Economic inequality is closely linked to racial inequality,

and both operate as strong determinants of major variations in health status.

Although other subordinated racial groups such as Latinos and Asian Americans, as well as some white ethnic groups, have experienced imposed residential segregation in U.S. history, no group has experienced the high degree of segregation and isolation faced by African Americans, who are twice as isolated as Hispanics and Asians and about 60% more segregated (Massey and Denton 1993, p. 67). The social, health, and economic repercussions of this residential segregation are similar to the detrimental results experienced by black South Africans in South Africas dismantled oppressive system of apartheid.


The oppressive system of apartheid swept through South Africa as a consequence of the electoral victory of the white-racist National Party in 1948. Apartheid embraced a totalitarian racial policy essential to replace the old policy of informal segregation. Legal apartheid controlled and manipulated the space in which black people developed their lives and livelihoods. The main aim of apartheid was total separation of blacks and whites in schools, hospitals, beaches, stores, buses, and housing. Black South Africans were forced to live in subordinate conditions, were separated from their families, were subjected to physical and psychological trauma, and were forced to carry identification cards to move about their country. The white South African government forced black South Africans to live in particular areas called Bantustans and townships. The townships consisted of deplorable one-room shanty houses made of cardboard and scrap metal. Entire families lived in these shanty houses without running water and electricity. These deplorable conditions still exist into the twenty-first century in South Africa. The system of racial apartheid, for many decades during the twentieth century, disproportionately placed all economic, social, and political power in the hands of whites, at the expense of every other racial-ethnic group.

The experiences of apartheid in South Africa for blacks were not unique. The institutionalization of racism there, a process that permeated and perverted every aspect of the individual and collective lives of South Africans, was similar in many aspects to that of the era of legal segregation in the United States. In the early twenty-first century both still have a striking persistence of residential segregation and other racial inequalities in regard to socioeconomic, health, political, and educational resources. South Africas history of racial, cultural, and economic tensions still affects black South Africans who were used as a cheap source of labor and who were prevented from purchasing land, voting, and interracial marriage.

Black South Africans resisted the system of apartheid just as African Americans resisted legal segregation. Nelson Mandela, an internationally recognized leader in the struggle for black civil rights, was the head of the African National Congress, whose struggle played a major role in finally dismantling racial apartheid. Mandela was imprisoned in 1963 for his participation in the fight for civil rights, and he spent nearly thirty years of his life in prison. He was released in 1990 and served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. His contributions, accomplishments, sacrifices, and commitment to and for civil rights are recognized and celebrated internationally.

Unlike the United States, South Africa was forced to create the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with the power to interview white oppressors and their victims, to establish historical documents of the events, to unearth the missing dead, and to grant amnesty, in order to secure a democratic society in South Africa. Mandelas message of truth, justice, equality, and reconciliation dominated the early days of transition and aided in the success of ending the oppressive system of apartheid. In contrast, neither the U.S. government nor state governments have ever apologized for the enslavement and segregation of African Americans. A truth and reconciliation commission whose work would recognize that history of racial oppression might do for the United States what it did for South Africa.

SEE ALSO African National Congress; Apartheid; Brown v. Board of Education 1954 ; Brown v. Board of Education 1955 ; Citizenship; Civil Liberties; Civil Rights; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Du Bois, W. E. B.; Integration; Jim Crow; King, Martin Luther, Jr.; Malcolm X; Mandela, Nelson; Marshall, Thurgood; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Racism; Segregation, Residential; Segregation, School; Separate-but-Equal; Supreme Court, U.S.; Truth and Reconciliation Commissions; Warren, Earl; Wells-Barnett, Ida B.


Baldwin-Ragaven, Laurel, Leslie London, and Jeanelle De Gruchy. 2000. Learning From Our Apartheid Past: Human Rights Challenges for Health Professionals in Contemporary South Africa. Ethnicity and Health 5 (3/4): 227241.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2003. Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Christie, Kenneth. 2000. The South African Truth Commission. New York: St. Martins Press.

Collins, Chiquita A., and David R. Williams. 1999. Segregation and Mortality: The Deadly Effects of Racism? Sociological Forum 14 (3): 495523.

Cornwall, Jo Anne. 1986. The United States and South Africa: History, Civil Rights and the Legal and Cultural Vulnerability of Blacks. Phylon 47 (4): 285293.

Feagin, Joe R. 2006. Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression. New York: Routledge.

Feagin, Joe R., and Karyn D. McKinney. 2003. The Many Costs of Racism. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Fourie, Ginn J. A. 2000. The Psychology of Perpetrators of Political Violence in South AfricaA Personal Experience. Ethnicity & Health 5 (3/4): 283289.

Gibson, James L. 2004. Overcoming Apartheid: Can Truth Reconcile a Divided Nation? New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Kennedy, Stetson. 1959. Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A: The Laws, Customs, and Etiquette Governing the Conduct of Nonwhites and Other Minorities as Second-Class Citizens. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Packard, Jerrold. 2002. American Nightmare: The History of Jim Crow. New York: St. Martins Press.

Patterson, James T. 2002. Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Smythe, Hugh H. 1948. The Concept of Jim Crow. Social Forces 27 (1): 4548.

Verdun, Vincene. 2005. The Big Disconnect Between Segregation and Integration. The Negro Educational Review 56 (1): 6782.

Williams, David R., Allen Herman, Ronald C. Kessler, et al. 2004. The South Africa Stress and Health Study: Rationale and Design. Metabolic Brain Disease 19 (1/2): 135147.

Joe R. Feagin

Ruth Thompson-Miller


views updated May 14 2018



At the heart of most literature about race and prejudice is the idea of exclusion—exclusion from opportunities, exclusion from resources, and even exclusion from physical spaces. Segregation is the physical separation of people of a certain race, ethnicity, or class from other people. Sometimes this involves wholesale relocation, as with American Indians in the nineteenth century and Japanese Americans during World War II. However, segregation can also manifest itself as exclusion from certain places or services; during the first half of the twentieth century, for example, many restaurants in the American South refused entrance or service to "coloreds." Despite these examples, segregation is not limited to the history and literature of Americans; a survey of world literature reveals that segregation is a common theme across all boundaries of culture and geography.

Jim Crow

From the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction in 1877 to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, legalized racism flourished in the southern United States with the encouragement and protection of "Jim Crow" laws—laws that kept black and white Americans segregated in many areas of life. One of the most well-known figures in the fight to end segregation in America is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1956, he helped organize a boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus system in an attempt to end segregation on public transportation. Eight years later, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., King gave what would become his most famous speech: "I Have A Dream." In it, he notes the promise of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which was meant to free blacks from "the long night of captivity" that was slavery. One hundred years later, King argues, blacks are still not free, but are "crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination." According to King, segregation has created "a lonely island of poverty" for blacks "in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity" for whites. The speech is a plea for all Americans to settle for nothing less than an end to segregation:

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

In fact, a deeper reading reveals that King's stated goal is not just an end to segregation; the "dream" King mentions in the speech is genuine integration. He dreams of an America where, as he describes it, "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers." King did not dream just of equality, but of cooperation and brotherhood between races.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), written by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, offers a different perspective on the issue of black segregation in America. After a troubled early adulthood that leads to crimes and prison, Malcolm X becomes active in the separatist Nation of Islam movement, which seeks to end the injustice of whites against blacks by forming an entirely separate nation for blacks. The first part of the book represents his early endorsement of segregation for the benefit of those who are oppressed; in doing so, it offers the cynical viewpoint that whites and nonwhites might never be able to achieve the harmony sought by Dr. King. Instead, Malcolm X proposes that black Americans seek common ground outside their home country:

I reflected many, many times to myself upon how the American Negro has been entirely brainwashed from ever seeing or thinking of himself, as he should, as a part of the non-white peoples of the world.

Some statements toward the end of the book—as well as his formal break with the Nation of Islam—indicate a softening of Malcolm X's militant separatist views. His 1964 journey to Mecca in particular expands his ideas about how whites and blacks can interact. However, once he returns to America, he still routinely denies whites the opportunity to join his movement. He is assassinated the following year, before he has a chance to solidify any practical shift in his attitudes toward segregation and separatism.

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) is widely regarded as a classic coming-of-age story that tackles the issue of race relations in the American South. It tells the story of an innocent black man named Tom Robinson put on trial for the rape of a white woman through the eyes of the white girl whose father is defending the case. The incident reveals how quickly the small, tight-knit town of Maycomb divides almost to a person along racial lines; only the white Finch family breaks the color barrier, with father Atticus defending Robinson and the Finch children watching the trial from the "colored" balcony in the courthouse.

However, To Kill a Mockingbird also depicts a different kind of prejudice and segregation equally important to the novel's theme. Boo Radley, a neighbor of the Finches, is a mysterious shut-in who is feared by the neighborhood children. His appearance and harsh upbringing are obstacles that prevent him from becoming a part of normal society. Throughout the course of the novel, the children come to understand that their initial prejudices about Boo were wrong. In response, they encourage Boo to extend himself into the world outside his home, and accept him as a part of their community. This acceptance of others is a central theme of the novel, and is hinted at in Chapter Three by Atticus himself: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

In Black Like Me (1961), a white journalist named John Howard Griffin takes Atticus Finch's suggestion a step further. With the goal of confronting white Americans with the realities of segregation and racism in the American South, Griffin undergoes skin treatments that darken his skin, then travels the South posing as a black man so he can chronicle the experience firsthand. After weeks of being denied basic rights and services by whites, Griffin decides to alternate his appearance in the same location; first he enters a town as a black man, and then later returns as a white man. The difference in treatment only confirms what he has already come to know: even when white and black Americans are not segregated geographically, they exist in two entirely different worlds.


While American writers have helped to provide a deeper understanding of black segregation, especially in the South prior to and during the civil rights movement, world literature contains many works that document equally compelling experiences in other countries. In particular, the issue of segregation strikes a resonant chord with many writers from South Africa who lived with the country's history of state-sponsored racial segregation, apartheid. The word "apartheid," which comes from the Afrikaans language spoken by white Dutch settlers of South Africa, actually means "separateness."

The books Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton (1948), and A Dry White Season, by André Brink, (1984) offer two different views of apartheid in the South African city of Johannesburg—one black, and the other white. Cry, the Beloved Country tells of a rural black reverend's quest to recover his family from the danger and decay that eats away their spirits in urban Johannesburg. The reverend, Stephen Kumalo, discovers that his estranged son Absalom is involved in the killing of a white man named Arthur Jarvis. Absalom is tried and sentenced to death. Kumalo meets the victim's father, James Jarvis, and the two form an unlikely friendship born from the tragedy. In A Dry White Season, a white teacher named Ben du Toit becomes friends with Gordon Ngubene, a black janitor at the school where Ben teaches. When Gordon's son disappears during an anti-apartheid demonstration, Gordon becomes suspicious; Ben, however, is not willing to believe that the government would be involved in malfeasance. After both Gordon and his son turn up dead, Ben is forced to confront the ugly truth behind his country's peacekeeping methods. Although the two books were published more than three decades apart, they show that apartheid was a perverse evil that often brought tragedy to both black and white South Africans.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (1995) tells the story of one of South Africa's most important opponents of apartheid. Mandela grows up in a rural part of South Africa still ruled by tribal custom, isolated from the white Afrikaner areas of the country. As he gets older—and as apartheid becomes official state policy—he realizes that the separation of races is being enforced by violence and oppression, and that the government is attempting to create "homelands" for blacks separate from the "real" South Africa to keep them from being classified as citizens. Mandela notes that tribalism further divides black South Africans, making it difficult for blacks to fight for equality against the minority population of whites.

Although the young Mandela supports sabotage and destruction to achieve goals, he does not see the situation between blacks and whites as hopeless. Even at his 1964–1965 trial for sabotage, which results in a sentence of life imprisonment, he speaks clearly against separatism and segregation:

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

Mandela is eventually released from prison in 1990, as the South African government begins the process of dismantling apartheid. He becomes the first democratically elected president of South Africa four years later, and is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with former South African President F. W. de Klerk. However, Mandela cautions that even though apartheid has been defeated, the long walk to freedom is an ongoing journey.

Beyond Black and White

Wladyslaw Szpilman's The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939–1945 (1999; originally published in Polish in 1945) offers a glimpse at a specific, swift, and brutal example of segregation: Jewish relocation and internment by the Nazi government during World War II. In Warsaw, where Szpilman works as a classical musician, German occupying troops first force all Jews into a "ghetto," or a district designated specifically for a certain minority. Later, as the Nazis decide upon the "Final Solution" for dealing with Jews, the Warsaw ghetto is cleared and all inhabitants are forced into concentration camps, where many are systematically killed. Szpilman stays behind, hiding out in an attic and depending upon the essential goodness of others—including one sympathetic Nazi officer—to survive the unspeakable genocide that befalls so many other Polish Jews. Even amidst the terror, hatred, and methodical murder by the Nazis, it is Szpilman's ability to recognize and appreciate universal humanness that keeps him alive that makes his account so memorable and important.

In some ways, the oppressed become the oppressors in Joe Sacco's Palestine (1993–1995), a graphic novel that depicts the turbulence of the Middle East through the author's own experiences and through the stories of others. Sacco's work concentrates on the Palestinian population that lives under occupation by Israeli troops. Intent on securing the safety of their homeland, the Israelis insist that they must occupy this area to protect themselves. After centuries of persecution, the Israelis are so determined to keep themselves safe that they engage in forced relocations and violent tactics against Palestinians. Though such actions are not always unprovoked, and Sacco is careful to depict the frequent ugliness of Palestinian behavior as well, the book can be seen as a warning about the dangers of oppression in any form, for even the most understandable reasons.


Segregation as a theme in literature underscores the all-too-real tendency toward exclusion of certain people that has existed throughout human history. This might seem disheartening at first glance, but literature's greatest accomplishment is the expression of the universality of the human experience. The fact that such works can evoke outrage, indignation, and understanding in readers across all cultural boundaries shows that literature's power lies in its ability to include rather than exclude. Perhaps the theme of segregation, then, appears so often because it acts as a unifying force—a call for self-examination and a challenge for all readers to be better humans.


King, Martin Luther, Jr., "I Have A Dream," as printed in Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Peaceful Warrior, by Ed Clayton, Simon Pulse, 1991, originally published in 1968, pp. 110-18.

Lee, Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird, HarperCollins, 1999, p. 33, originally published in 1959.

Mandela, Nelson, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, Back Bay Books, 1995, p. 368.

Paton, Alan, Cry, the Beloved Country, Scribner, 2003, p. 71, originally published in 1948.

X, Malcolm, and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Ballantine Books, 1992, p. 398, originally published in 1965.


views updated May 21 2018


SEGREGATION. The practice of segregating people by race and gender has taken two forms. De jure segregation is separation enforced by law, while de facto segregation occurs when widespread individual preferences, sometimes backed up with private pressure, lead to separation. De jure racial segregation was a practice designed to perpetuate racial subordination; de facto segregation of African Americans had similar effects, but sometimes could be defended as a result simply of private choice, itself an important American value. Separation of men and women occurred primarily in the workplace and in education. It contributed to the subordinate status of women, but less directly than racial segregation contributed to racial hierarchy.

Racial segregation as such was not a significant social practice before slavery was abolished because slavery itself was a system of subordination. Some northern states prohibited the immigration of free African Americans, reflecting the near-universal desire among whites to live apart from African Americans who would be socially and politically equal. In some northern cities, African Americans tended to live in neighborhoods that were racially identifiable, but de jure segregation was rare because it was unnecessary; there were few public programs of any sort that might be segregated, and de facto segregation produced the same results that de jure segregation would have. The city of Boston maintained a segregated school system from the beginning of the nineteenth century, and in 1845 the state supreme court found that doing so did not violate the state constitution's guarantee of equal liberty, but the state outlawed segregation in public schools in 1855. De facto segregation in railroads and steamboats was common. The practice of taking land from Indians and forcing them to live on reservations was a type of segregation enforced by law, although the U.S. Supreme Court's treatment of Indian tribes as semi-sovereign nations lent a certain theoretical sense to separating Indians and whites into different territories.

The Emergence of Southern Racial Segregation

Slavery's abolition meant that racial subordination could persist only with new kinds of support. Informal practices of racial segregation soon sprang up throughout the South, particularly in railroads and other places generally open to the public. In response, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which made discrimination in places of public accommodation illegal. The Supreme Court held the act unconstitutional in the Civil Rights Cases (1883), concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibited states from denying equal protection of the law, did not authorize Congress to adopt laws dealing with private discrimination.

After Reconstruction, whites sought to reinforce patterns of racial hierarchy. Many southern states adopted laws expressly requiring racial segregation in transportation, schools, and elsewhere. The Supreme Court upheld such laws in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited discrimination only in connection with civil and political rights but not in connection with social rights such as were involved in education and transportation. The Court's doctrine indicated that states could require racial segregation only if the facilities provided the races were actually equal, but no state took the requirement of equality seriously, and the segregated schools and railroad cars available to African Americans were, typically, substantially worse than those available to whites. The Supreme Court's approval of segregation spurred southern legislatures to extend the Jim Crow system much more substantially to include separate seating in courtrooms; separate water fountains from which to drink; separate Bibles for swearing oaths in court; and separate swimming pools, parks, and golf courses.

De Jure Racial Segregation Declines, De Facto Racial Segregation Rises

African Americans continually mounted legal challenges to segregation, focusing at first on the inequality of facilities. Eventually, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), the Supreme Court became convinced that separate facilities could never be equal. As the social importance of de jure segregation declined with the repeal or invalidation of statutes specifically discriminating on the basis of race, the importance of de facto segregation increased. Migration of African Americans from the rural South to urban areas in the South and North led to significant increases in residential segregation, and—in a society where children went to their neighborhood schools—to de facto segregation in education.

Sometimes residential segregation was reinforced by law. In Buchanan v. Warley (1917), the Supreme Court held unconstitutional ordinances that effectively required residential segregation. In response, real estate agents and private developers began to include provisions, called restrictive covenants, in contracts for the purchase of housing that barred resale to purchasers of a race different from that of the homeowner. The Supreme Court eventually, in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), held restrictive covenants unconstitutional, but not before patterns of residential segregation had become entrenched. National housing policy from the 1930s through the 1950s also reinforced residential segregation, as federal housing authorities required developers to include restrictive covenants and supported decisions by local housing authorities to segregate the buildings they owned. When combined with differences in the wealth of African Americans and whites, these policies helped create urban ghettoes in which African Americans and, in some parts of the country, Hispanic Americans were concentrated.

Some antidiscrimination laws enacted in the 1960s provided the legal basis for challenging de facto segregation, but in general such attacks failed. Legislatures and courts regarded de facto segregation as resulting from private choices by people with different amounts of money to spend on housing, and therefore as less morally questionable than de jure segregation. The Supreme Court held that only de jure segregation violated the Constitution. By the early 1970s, Justice William O. Douglas, a liberal, and Justice Lewis F. Powell, a moderate conservative, urged their colleagues to abandon the distinction between de jure and de facto discrimination. The Court never did, however, in part because liberals were concerned that the courts could not successfully take on the challenge of eliminating de facto segregation, while conservatives were concerned that the courts would try to do so.

Gender Segregation

Separation of men and women was also common. Often influenced by labor unions and early feminists, state legislatures adopted what were known as protective labor laws, barring women from particular occupations regarded as inappropriate for women, or restricting the hours women could work while leaving untouched employers' ability to contract with men for longer hours. In Muller v. Oregon (1908), the Supreme Court upheld a state law limiting the hours women could work, noting the extensive information about workplace safety submitted by public advocate Louis Brandeis. In Goesaert v. Cleary (1948), the Court upheld a law barring women from working as bartenders, except when their husbands owned the bars. Sincerely defended as being in the best interests of women who would become ill if they worked long hours, or morally degraded if they worked in certain occupations, the protective labor laws rested on assumptions about women's proper role that were part of a system of gender hierarchy.

The creation of separate educational institutions for girls and women had even more complex effects on the gender system. Women typically took different courses than men did, specializing in subjects that were thought particularly suitable for women who would be running households and caring for others, including children. Separate educational institutions, however, also provided women students a space within which they could develop free from competition with men, and their instructors gave women students models of intellectually engaged mature women whom the students could emulate.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning workplace discrimination based on sex, led courts to invalidate protective labor laws and employer work rules that had the effect of creating different departments for men and women. The feminist movement of the mid-twentieth century discredited the assumptions on which protective legislation rested and began to undermine the assumptions that had justified separate educational institutions for girls and women. From the 1960s on, colleges that had been segregated by gender voluntarily abandoned the practice, leaving only a handful of private colleges that admitted only men or only women. In United States v. Virginia (1996), the Supreme Court held unconstitutional the exclusion of women from the Virginia Military Institute, one of the remaining state-run schools that did so—although the Court's opinion suggested that separate education for women might have more justification than did schools for men only.

Voluntary Segregation

In the 1990s, a minor flurry of interest arose in the creation of public schools for young African American men, which would have revived a form of de jure racial segregation. No such schools were created, largely because the nation's commitment against de jure racial segregation was so strong. Voluntary programs of racial separation, in the form of separate dormitories for African Americans at private colleges, had somewhat more support, and defenders of separate educational institutions for women and separate sports programs for men and women could be found even more easily. The different ways that de jure and de facto segregation contribute to creating racial and gender hierarchy seem to account for the stronger opposition to de jure than to de facto segregation, with de jure segregation expressing more clearly a social preference for hierarchy.


Kerber, Linda. No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship. New York: Hill and Wang, 1998.

Kousser, J. Morgan. "'The Supremacy of Equal Rights': The Struggle Against Racial Discrimination in Antebellum Massachusetts and the Foundations of the Fourteenth Amendment." Northwestern University Law Review 82 (Summer 1988): 941–1010.

Welke, Barbara Y. "When All the Women Were White, and All the Blacks Were Men: Gender, Class, Race and the Road to Plessy, 1855–1914." Law and History Review 13 (1995): 261–316.

Woodward, C. Vann. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. 3d rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Mark V.Tushnet

See alsoBrown v. Board of Education of Topeka ; Civil Rights and Liberties ; Civil Rights Act of 1875 ; Civil Rights Act of 1964 ; Civil Rights Movement ; Desegregation ; Education, Higher: Women's Colleges ; Muller v. Oregon ; Plessy v. Ferguson ; Schools, Resegregation of ; andvol. 9:The Arrest of Rosa Parks ; Pachucos in the Making .


views updated May 09 2018


From the beginning, racial discrimination in America has been a national phenomenon. Jim Crow was a southern name for the segregation of the races as part of a system of caste. But segregation antedated Jim Crow, and it began in the North and the West. The leading judicial decision upholding school segregation before the civil war bears a name Northerners prefer to forget: roberts v. boston (1850). Blacks were either excluded entirely from public accommodations such as hotels, railroads, and theaters, or given separate accommodations. They were segregated in prisons and in churches. Several northern and western states even sought to bar the immigration of blacks; such a legal provision was adopted by Oregon voters by an eight-to-one margin.

Nor has this country's segregation been limited to blacks. As late as 1947, a federal court of appeals held that the segregation of Chicano children in a school district in California was invalid. The decision's ground was itself depressing: the state's statute authorized only the segregation of children whose ancestry was Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian.

Still, it was the postabolition South that carried the segregation of the races to its fullest development, and blacks were the chief victims of the practice. Before slavery was abolished, of course, the dominance of whites was assured without any call for segregation. After abolition, the southern states adopted severe legal restrictions on blacks, which served to maintain white supremacy. (See black codes.) When the civil rights act of 1866 and the fourteenth amendment not only ended these legal restrictions but also positively declared the citizenship of the freed slaves, segregation was the southern response. By 1870, Tennessee had forbidden interracial marriages (see miscegenation) and later came the "Jim Crow car" laws segregating railroad passenger seating.

Segregation was not, however, merely a creature of state legislation. It also resulted from private action: a hotel would refuse to take black guests; homeowners in a neighborhood would agree not to sell to black buyers. In such cases law played a role that was less obvious on the surface of events but was vital nonetheless. A black who sought the aid of the state courts in overcoming private discrimination would simply be turned away; state laws would deny any remedy.

Late in the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court gave its support to this system of interlocking discriminations. In the civil rights cases (1883), the Court held invalid a congressional statute forbidding racial discrimination by railroads, hotels, theaters, and restaurants. (See state action.) And in plessy v. ferguson (1896) the Court upheld a Jim Crow car law against an equal protection attack. (See separate but equal doctrine.) By the early twentieth century, the South was racially segregated to extremes that were at once tragic and ludicrous: separate telephone booths for blacks in Oklahoma; separate storage for textbooks used by black children in North Carolina and Florida schools; separate elevators for blacks in Atlanta; separate Bibles for swearing black witnesses in Georgia courts. The point of all this was nothing less than the denial to blacks of membership in a white-dominated society—the denial of citizenship itself, in defiance of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Some of the harms caused by racial segregation are harms to material interests: a black is denied accommodation at a hotel, or admission to a state university medical school (and thus to the medical profession), or the chance to live in a particular neighborhood or be a factory foreman. These material harms are serious, but the worst harms of segregation are psychic harms. The primary reason for segregating railroad passengers, of course, is to symbolize a caste system. The stigma of inferiority is a denial of a person's humanity, and the result is anguish and humiliation. The more the races are separated, the more natural it is for members of the dominant white race to see each black person not as an individual but simply as a black. Ralph Ellison, in his novel Invisible Man (1952), makes the point: "I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.… When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.… You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world." To be a citizen, on the other hand, is to be respected as a person and recognized as a participating member in the society.

Jim Crow was a complex living system, and its dismantling would be no simple task. The field of segregation in housing exemplifies the difficulties. The NAACP's first major victory against segregation came in buchanan v. warley (1917), when the Supreme Court struck down a local zoning ordinance aimed at maintaining segregated residential neighborhoods. But the decision by no means ended housing segregation, which continued as a result of private conduct. When the private discrimination was sufficiently connected with state action, as in the case of racially restrictive covenants enforced by state courts, the Fourteenth Amendment was an effective weapon against residential segregation. (See shelley v. kraemer.) But in the absence of such state support, a landowner might simply refuse to rent or sell to blacks, and the would-be buyers would be without remedy. Two events in 1968 altered this portion of the doctrinal landscape. In jones v. alfred h. mayer co. the Supreme Court concluded that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 forbade private discrimination in the sale of property. In the same year, Congress adopted a comprehensive fair housing law as part of the civil rights act of 1968. The new law forbade various forms of racial discrimination by lenders and brokers as well as private landlords and sellers. The combination of constitutional litigation and legislation aimed at ending housing segregation had achieved a radical restructuring of the law.

The restructuring of racial patterns in the neighborhoods where people live, however, has proved to be quite another matter. Middle-class blacks have largely left the core cities to live in suburbs, but the degree of racial segregation in residences has changed only slightly since 1940. The term "white flight," coined in the context of school desegregation, seems even more clearly applicable to residential patterns. It is hard to find stable interracial neighborhoods in any large city in the country, at any income level. (For discussion of related questions concerning the public schools—where continued patterns of segregation are related directly to residential segregation—see desegregation.)

In contrast, racial segregation in transportation and other public accommodations has come to an end. (See sit-in; civil rights act of 1964.) And laws forbidding interracial marriage collapsed under the double weight of equal protection and due process in loving v. virginia (1967). (See freedom of intimate association.) Employment discrimination, too, is in retreat—including the segregation of job categories by race—as a result of enforcement of the fair employment portions of the 1964 Act.

The segregation that remains in American society, then, is chiefly residential segregation—with its concomitant, a substantial extent of separation of the races in the public schools. There is irony here: the decision in the school segregation case, brown v. board of education (1954), was the critical event in the demise of Jim Crow, but our big city schools are the one set of public institutions in which the races remain largely separated. Yet Brown 's impact on American life was important. The decision began more than a doctrinal movement; its implicit affirmation of the equal citizenship of all our people accelerated forces that have markedly changed not only race relations but also a wide range of other relationships formerly characterized by dominance and dependency.

It is easy now to see the social and economic changes in the country that permitted the success of the movement to end officially sponsored segregation. world war ii was the great watershed. By the time the war began, there was a critical mass of educated blacks, enough to provide a national movement not only with its great chiefs but with local leadership as well—and with a trained cadre of lawyers. The war produced waves of migration of blacks out of the rural South and into the cities of the North and West, where they very soon found a political voice. In part, too, the war had been billed as a war against Nazi racism—whatever we might be doing on the home front. (See japanese american cases.) The expected postwar depression failed to appear, and the 1950s and 1960s were a time of economic expansion, conducive to a sympathetic reception for egalitarian claims. All this is familiar learning. Yet in the early 1950s there was no sense of inevitability surrounding the assault on segregation. If the sudden collapse of Jim Crow now seems inevitable, that in itself is a measure of the distance we have come. And if the end of segregation did not end a system of racial caste, that is a measure of the distance we have yet to travel.

Kenneth L. Karst


Bell, Derrick 1980 Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma. Harvard Law Review 93: 518–533.

Levy, Leonard W. and Jones, Douglas 1972 Jim Crow Education: Origins of the "Separate but Equal" Doctrine. In Leonard W. Levy, Judgments: Essays on American Constitutional History. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.

Litwack, Leon F. 1961 North of Slavery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Myrdal, Gunnar 1944 An American Dilemma. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Woodward, C. Vann 1966 The Strange Career of Jim Crow, 2nd rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press.


views updated May 29 2018


The act or process of separating a race, class, or ethnic group from a society's general population.

Segregation in the United States has been practiced, for the most part, on African Americans. Segregation by law, or de jure segregation, of African Americans was developed by state legislatures and local lawmaking bodies in southern states shortly after the Civil War. De facto segregation, or inadvertent segregation, continues to exist in varying degrees in both northern and southern states.

De facto segregation arises from social and economic factors and cannot be traced to official government action. For example, zoning laws that forbid multifamily housing can have the effect of excluding all but the wealthiest persons from a particular community.

De jure segregation was instituted in the southern states in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The state legislatures in the

Yonkers, New York, Battles Segregation

In 1980, the justice department and the Yonkers branch of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (naacp) filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Yonkers, New York, the Yonkers School Board, and the Yonkers Community Development Agency, charging that the city had engaged in systematic segregation for the previous 30 years. The plaintiffs alleged that the city government had disproportionately restricted new subsidized housing projects to certain areas of the city already heavily populated by minorities. The case marked the first time racial segregation charges were levied against housing and school officials in the same suit.

After years of preparation and a three-month trial, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that the defendants had in fact segregated the city's housing and schools based on racial identity. United States v. Yonkers Board of Education 624 F.Supp. 1276 (S.D.N.Y. 1985). The city was ordered to designate sites for public housing by November 1986, but the city refused to comply during the appeals process. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the racial discrimination rulings (837 F.2d 1181 [2nd Cir. 1987]) but did not resolve the compliance issue. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the city's petition for certiorari, and in January 1988 the parties agreed to a consent decree that established a new housing plan. The Yonkers city council voted to approve the decree, which was submitted to the trial court and accepted. The city was to pass legislation outlining the new housing plan within 90 days.

The city did not pass the legislation by the deadline, and the justice department and the Yonkers NAACP submitted a "Long-Term Plan Order" to the trial court, which ordered the city to pass the legislation by August 1, 1988. The city council did vote, but the measure was defeated 4–3. The trial court held the city and the council in contempt, a move affirmed by the Second Circuit. The city requested a stay of the sanctions from the Supreme Court. The stay was granted, but only for the individual council members; the city incurred stiff fines totaling nearly $1 million per day. The council, by a vote of 5–2, enacted an Affordable Housing Ordinance on September 9, 1988. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that the trial court had the right to sanction the city, but it had overstepped its bounds in sanctioning the individual council members. Spallone v. United States, 493 U.S. 265, 111 S. Ct 625, 107, L. Ed. 2d 644 (1990).

In 1993, the Yonkers Board of Education and the Yonkers NAACP reactivated the original case, alleging that while the city schools were no longer pursuing policies that were pursued or implemented in a racially-identifiable manner, vestiges of segregation remained. The plaintiffs included the state of New York in this new suit because, they believed, the state had exacerbated the problem by continually underfunding Yonkers. The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs about the segregation and found that the city needed additional money to carry out meaningful desegregation. The court refused to hold the state of New York fiscally responsible because the state had never affirmatively participated in the segregation. United States v. Yonkers Board of Education, 880 F. Supp. 212 (S.D.N.Y. 1995).

The Second Circuit appeals court vacated the trial court's decision regarding the state's fiscal responsibility, holding that the state had a fiscal obligation to alleviate segregation in Yonkers. United States v. Yonkers Board of Education, 96 F.3d 600 (2d Cir. 1996), cert. Denied 117 U.S. 2479, 138 L. Ed.2d 988 (1996). Still another trial ensued. The state attempted to prove that there were no vestiges of segregation in the Yonkers public schools, but the court thought otherwise and ordered the city and the state to share in the costs of a second desegregation plan—devised by the court—called the "Educational Improvement Plan." United States v. Yonkers Board of Education, 984 F. Supp 687, 123 Ed. Law Rep 544 (1997) (S.D.N.Y.).

The next several years saw little agreement over progress or culpability, but the parties pushed on in the hope of reaching common ground. Early in 2002 a pact was announced that would provide $300 million in state funding to the school district over a five-year period, to be used to fund programs that boost academic achievement for all city students. Under the terms of the agreement, a monitor was supposed to be assigned to ensure that the school district was living up to its promises. As of March 2003 the district had been unsuccessful in filling the position, which led some observers to question its commitment to the pact.

further readings

Feld, Jayne J. 2003. "Schools Reopen Search for Desegregation Pact Monitor." Journal News (March 25).

Reid, Karla Scoon. 2002. "Yonkers Desegregation Suit May Be Nearing End." Education Week (January 16).


Civil Rights Acts; Discrimination.

southern states accomplished de jure segregation by creating separate facilities, services, and areas for African Americans. Blacks were separated from the rest of society in virtually every facility, service, and circumstance, including schools, public drinking fountains, public lavatories, restaurants, theaters, hotels and motels, welfare services, hospitals, cemeteries, residences, military facilities, and all modes of transportation.

The quality of these facilities and services was invariably inferior to the facilities and services used by the rest of the communities. Laws in many states also prohibited miscegenation, or marriage between racially mixed couples. If an African American failed to observe segregation and used facilities reserved for white persons, she could be arrested and prosecuted.

In 1896 the U.S. Supreme Court gave explicit approval to segregation in plessy v. ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S. Ct. 1138, 41 L. Ed. 256 (1896). The High Court declared in Plessy that segregation did not violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution's fourteenth amendment if the separate facilities and services for African Americans were equal to the facilities and services for white persons. This separate-but-equal doctrine survived until 1954.

That year, in brown v. board of education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954), the Court reversed the Plessy decision. In Brown, the Court ruled that state-sponsored segregation did violate the guarantee of equal protection under the laws provided to all citizens in the Fourteenth Amendment. The Brown case concerned only the segregation of schools, but the Court's rationale was used throughout the 1950s to strike down all the remaining state and local segregation laws.

In the 1960s Congress took steps to curtail segregation in private life. The civil rights act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.) forbade segregation in all privately owned public facilities subject to any form of federal control under the Interstate Commerce Clause in Article I, Section 8, Clause 3, of the U.S. Constitution. Facilities covered by the act included restaurants, hotels, retail stores, and recreational facilities. States began to follow suit by passing laws that prohibited discrimination in housing and employment. In 1968 the Supreme Court ruled that a seller or lessor of property could not refuse to sell or rent to a person based on that person's race or color (Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, 88 S. Ct. 2186, 20 L. Ed. 2d 1189 [1968]).

In 1971 the Court held in swann v. charlotte-mecklenburg board of education, 402 U.S. 1, 91 S. Ct. 1267, 28 L. Ed. 2d 554 (1971), that busing schoolchildren to different schools was an acceptable means of combating de facto segregation in schools. However, subsequent court decisions have rejected the forced integration of predominantly white suburban school districts with largely black urban districts, and public education remains effectively segregated in many areas of the United States.


Civil Rights; Integration; Jim Crow Laws; School Desegregation. See also primary documents in "From Segregation to Civil Rights" section of Appendix.


views updated May 29 2018


Segregation is the separation of people based on race, religion, ethnic group, sex, or social class. In the United States, racial segregation has been the most prevalent and visible form. After the abolition of slavery in 1865, laws, known as Jim Crow laws, were passed in most southern states. The term "Jim Crow" referred to an African-American character in a popular song composed in the 1830s, and these laws, already introduced after that time were designed to enforce racial separation. Segregation was not only enforced by law, but also by various forms of physical violence. African Americans were forced to sit only in the back of buses and trains, use "black only" water fountains, and enter through the back doors of hotels and restaurantsif allowed to enter at all. Laws forced blacks to live only in certain sections of a town or city, be educated in separate schools, and obtain health care in separate hospitals or wards. They were also excluded from some governmental jobs.

Segregation not only limited black people physically, but also economically and socially, by blocking access to schooling and jobs. It also served as a form of humiliation and degradation. The Supreme Court, however, upheld segregation laws as late as 1896, in Plessy v. Ferguson, ruling that "separate but equal" facilities were constitutional. This concept was argued against strongly by both African Americans and whites throughout the United States. Eventually, arguments by Thurgood Marshall before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954 led the Court to declare school segregation unconstitutional. This started a series of legal battles, lobbying efforts, boycotts, and protests, which eventually brought an end to de jure, or legal, segregation and discrimination. Even so, de facto segregation, or segregation in fact, continues, and is evident in housing, education, and a number of other areas. Integration remains a continuous process in the United States.

The long-term impact of years of racial segregation persists even to this day. African Americans continue to live in the sections of cities and towns where they were initially forced to live, and they continue to suffer from a lack of economic and educational opportunities. The long and difficult experience of segregation has also resulted in deep mistrust of whites by African Americans. This has, at least in part, contributed to the noticeable disparities in health status and access to health services. In particular, African Americans appear to be more hesitant to seek medical attention. There are many potential reasons, such as previous bad experiences with white health care providers as well as the fact that they may not be as aware of their health problems as whites because of disparities in the provision of health education. Even after becoming aware of their need for services, however, African Americans may experience many barriers to accessing services (i.e., lack of insurance, transportation). They are also more likely to obtain inadequate care even after overcoming these barriers. These discrepancies are extensively documented in the health-services research literature.

Rachel Jean-Baptiste

Duncan Neuhauser

(see also: African Americans; Asian Americans; Cultural Appropriateness,; Cultural Identity; Ethnicity and Health; Ethnocentrism; Hispanic Cultures; Inequalities in Health; Prejudice; Race and Ethnicity )


Barnes, C. A. (1983). Journey from Jim Crow: The Desegregation of Southern Transit. New York: Columbia University Press.

Bhopal, R. (1998). "Spectre of Racism in Health and Health Care: Lessons from History and the United States." British Medical Journal 316(7149):19701973.

Feagin, J. R. "Segregation." World Book Encyclopedia Millennium 2000. Chicago: World Book.

Freeman, H. W.; Blendon, R. J.; Aiken, L. H.; Sudman, S.; Mullinix, C. F.; and Corey, C. R. (1987). "Americans Report on Their Access to Health Care." Health Affairs 6(1):68.

King, D. (1995). Separate and Unequal: Black Americans and the U.S. Federal Government. Oxford: Claredon Press.

Wasby, S. L.; D'Amato, A. A.; and Metrailer, R. (1977). Desegregation from Brown to Alexander. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Wolf, J. H.; Breslau, N.; Ford, A. B.; Ziegler, H. D.; and

Ward, A. (1983). "Access of the Black Urban Elderly to Medical Care." Journal of National Medical Association 75(1):4146.


views updated Jun 11 2018


When the North's Union army won the American Civil War (1861–65) and the United States ratified the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865, the institution of slavery was dissolved. As such a centuries-old structure of race relations in the South was removed. Though the concept of freedom looked hopeful to the former slaves, the dominating white society resisted any suggestion that free meant equal.

Southern states worked quickly to enact pieces of legislation called Black Codes . These laws defined the new social status of blacks in southern society. In most instances the Black Codes acknowledged certain rights that came with freedom, but limited them.

Congress passed several civil rights laws to undo the limitations of the Black Codes. The nation also adopted the Fourteenth Amendment

and Fifteenth Amendment to require equal rights under the law. Southerners responded by creating a social system of segregation. Through both legal and customary means, whites protected their economic and social advantages by separating themselves from blacks.

Segregation laws allowed racial designations to be separate for blacks and whites in public restaurants, hotels, transportation systems, schools, churches, and even residential areas. Patrons could be separated by race within different areas of the same establishment, or an establishment could be dedicated to serving only one race or the other. Sometimes access to a public park or theater was limited by race to certain times or performances. Customs, state laws, city ordinances, and company policies each played a role in establishing segregation as the norm in all aspects of public life.

Black Americans challenged segregation through petitions, sit-ins , boycotts, and court challenges. There were many white supremacist groups, however, like the Ku Klux Klan , devoted to keeping social advantages for whites. Blacks who challenged the system risked violent and often deadly retaliation from these groups.

For decades American courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court , found no legal basis for changing segregation laws. Court decisions upheld every kind of segregation policy, which opened the door for other discriminatory statutes and practices. As long as “separate but equal” facilities existed for the black population, courts said there was nothing to be done about segregation. While public facilities for blacks were rarely equal to those for whites, there was little interest among white majorities to change the system. Hence segregation became entrenched in southern living, where blacks effectively were second-class citizens.

Jim Crow

Jim Crow was a popular term used to describe racial segregation. The term alluded to both the legal aspects of segregation as well as the cultural conventions or behaviors that framed social relations between blacks and whites. Jim Crow laws established segregation policies, and Jim Crow signs established black entrances to public areas. Jim Crow was used wherever racial bias was apparent.

The term Jim Crow originated from the performances of a white minstrel, or entertainer, “Thomas Daddy” Rice, in 1828. He created a stage character based on a slave named Jim owned by a Mr. Crow. Rice represented Jim by blackening his face with burnt cork and wearing a ragged costume. Mocking the black race as he performed, Rice sang a song called “Jump Jim Crow.” By the 1830s Rice's performances both popularized the term Jim Crow and propelled blackface minstrelsy into mainstream entertainment.

While segregation took an unyielding hold in the southern states after the American Civil War, such laws began to fade in northern states following the end of slavery in 1865. Though racism still existed, civil rights began to grow for black Americans in the north. Through organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), black Americans continuously challenged the legal limits of separation. Black unions, civic leagues, voter organizations, and nationalist groups all organized to protest the injustices of segregation.

Particularly strong national efforts during the 1950s and 1960s brought about great change in the United States. With a change in policy from the U.S. Supreme Court, separate no longer counted as equal under the law. Legal segregation gradually ended in the latter half of the twentieth century with new congressional legislation and enforcement by the federal government. Now truly free under the law, many black Americans continued working to create equal economic and social opportunity in the United States.


views updated Jun 11 2018


The act or process of separating a race, class, or ethnic group from a society's general population.

District Judge Frees Little Rock Schools from Federal Supervision

A federal judge in Arkansas in February 2007 issued a ruling that released the Little Rock School District from federal supervision related to desegregation. The action occurred nearly 50 years after the first black students enrolled in the school in one of the biggest crises during the civil rights era. Despite the decision, representatives of black students in the city said that the district has not done enough to improve the performance of minorities in the district.

The U.S. Supreme Court on May 17, 1954 issued its decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 in which it held that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional. The Little Rock schools issued a policy statement five days after the decision indicating that they would comply with the Court's order. The School Board subsequently adopted a plan under which the high school would become integrated starting in September 1957. Controversy ensued, however, when 27 black students tried to register for classes in January 1956, but the school refused to admit these students.

The NAACP brought suit against the district, arguing in favor of the students' admission. Federal judge John E. Miller dismissed the suit, and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld the dismissal. However, a federal judge in North Dakota named Ronald N. Davies later issued an injunction, ordering the district to begin gradual integration in September 1957. Former Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called on the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the black students from entering the building. For the first three weeks of school, efforts to allow these students to enter the school failed, due largely to Faubus' actions. The impasse finally ended on September 25, 1957, as the nine students entered the school, accompanied by paratroopers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division, who were called in by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Litigation involving the Little Rock district has continued since the 1980s as well. In 1982, the Little Rock School District sued the Pulaski County Special and North Little Rock school districts, arguing that the city should have one unified school district. According to Little Rock, the policies and practices of the various districts had resulted in school segregation and discrimination. A U.S. District Judge in 1984 agreed with Little Rock and ordered the consolidation of the school districts. However, the Eighth Circuit in 1985 reversed the district court's decision and ruled that the Little Rock School District's boundary should coincide with the city limits. Little Rock Sch. Dist. v. Pulaski County Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 778 F.3d 404 (8th Cir. 1985).

In 1998, the Little Rock School District and a group representing black school children (known as the "Joshua Interveners") agreed to a voluntary Revised Desegregation and Education Plan, which required the district to comply with hundreds of obligations in order to be released from federal supervision. Although these requirements were beyond what either the Supreme Court or the Eighth Circuit have mandated, the courts determined that Little Rock was contractually bound to fulfill its obligations under the agreement. The plan called for Little Rock to be released from federal supervision by 2001.

In 2002, U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson agreed to free the Little Rock schools from supervision except in the area of student achievement. Little Rock Sch. Dist. v. Pulaski County Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 237 F. Supp. 2d 988 (E.D. Ark. 2002). Two years later, a panel of the Eighth Circuit affirmed the ruling. Little Rock Sch. Dist. v. Armstrong, 359 F.3d 957 (8th Cir. 2004). The Eighth Circuit again revisited the question of federal supervision of Little Rock schools in 2006, and the panel of the appellate court again determined that Little Rock had not complied with provisions of a previous court decree. Little Rock Sch. Dist. v. N. Little Rock Sch. Dist., 451 F.3d 528 (8th Cir. 2006).

Little Rock renewed its efforts to be released from federal supervision in October 2006 by submitting a series of evaluations showing that the district had complied with its obligations under a previous order that Wilson had issued. The Joshua Interveners countered by asking Wilson to hold the district in contempt of court for failing to meet these obligations. Wilson heard testimony in January 2007 from district officials, who provided evidence that the district had complied with the requirements. On February 23, Wilson signed an order that released Little Rock from further supervision. Little Rock Sch. Dist. v. Pulaski County Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, No. 4:82CV00866, 2007 WL 624054 (E.D. Ark. Feb. 23, 2007).

One issue that arose from the litigation in the 1980s focused on whether the district had put into place a system that could adequately measure whether test scores of black students were improving. Late in 2006, the district adopted a resolution that required continued assessment of student scores, even if the district was not under court supervision. Critics of the district have pointed out that black students in Little Rock score significantly lower on their standardized tests compared with white students. According to one of the attorneys for the Joshua Interveners, "We're certainly disappointed in view of the lack of progress this district has made in addressing the needs of African-American students. The standard was not high for the district to meet, but they certainly have not met it. We will have to pursue other means."

Officials with the Little Rock School District, however, said that the schools would continue to make progress in improving the education of its students. "The district has been given back to the people of this community, and my pledge to them is to continue to work hard and recognize that we're all going to work hard," said Roy Brooks, superintendent for the school district.

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