Written by Dariana Reid, Ashley Rivera & Stefanie Williams
The Separate Car Act of 1890 was the first official law mandating segregation on trains. The segregation of railroads was part of the development of the Jim Crow South. For the thirty years following the Civil War, blacks and whites rode in same railroad car. The act provided for blacks and whites to have equal but separate train cars. But the term equal was anything but that. Colored cars lacked luggage racks which required travelers to cram their suitcases at their feet. The bathroom in the colored car lacked basic amenities and was smaller in size. By 1904, the laws had tightened and black people faced the indignity of having to give up their seat for a desiring person.
Until the 1950s train travel was the primary way people covered long distances. But segregation was not limited to trains and if you traveled by bus or boat or airline, such division was strictly enforced. In the book, Wilkerson dives deeply into the journeys of three Black people who took their great migration by train. Through Wilkerson’s words, you can examine how brutal, and discriminatory, the travel via train was for Black people. Not only were the train carts not equal, but they were overheated, cramped, and did not provide the same services that were provided to the white cars. The train was only one way that the white supremacy hierarchy appeared. When you think “racial segregation,” you think about segregating ALL of the races. In theory, that’s what it means. But practically, state sanctioned violence only operated in one uniform way: whites vs everyone else. It was the epitome of white supremacy.
Think about the Jim Crow laws and how they operated: Black people couldn’t be in the same train cart as a white person. But there were no laws banning the intermingling of any other minority group. No “person” (really the State) cared whether Black people were marrying a person of another minority group – but it was illegal for someone to marry someone who was white. The State had no law preventing a Black person from playing checkers with someone of Asian descent – but in Birmingham, Alabama, the law prohibited a white person and a Black person from playing checkers against one another.
It’s this type of state-sanctioned racial segregation that permeated through all of the southern states and allowed Jim Crow laws to “flourish.” This caste system operated for white supremacy, encouraged white supremacy and was able to keep progressing based on white supremacist ideologies. When the people in power, here the police, uphold these views, there was no way for Black people to progress. And it was this state-sanctioned racial segregation, whether explicit or implicit, that forced Black people to migrate and leave the south. Forcing Black people to create their own freedom – in a land that was truly never free for them.
State-sanctioned racist segregation continues today even in this “liberal” city we live in. One of the ways it lives on is in our NYC school system, where 64 years after Brown, it is one of the most segregated school systems in the country. This continues to impact achievement rates of students in the ways it did 64 years ago. Most recently, a lawsuit was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court in an effort toward immigration because the state has not done enough to rectify the growing problem. This continues throughout several state school districts with very high rates in Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana. Here, the state sanctioned racism is implicit not necessarily perpetrated by the state, but the State does nothing to stop it. In fact, it is simply encouraged by not saying anything. And silence here – in this format – is just as deadly