A Dictionary of American History

Author: Thomas L. Purvis  | Date: 1995


Segregation This is the official or unnofficial practice of limiting physical contact or personal interaction between the races. Before 1800, Segregation laws were rare, except for bans on interracial marriage, which was outlawed in seven of the thirteen colonies between 1664 (Md.) and 1798 (R.I.). Between 1780 and 1860, a haphazard pattern of de facto Segregation appeared in the North, where neighborhoods were usually exclusive by race, and in southern cities, where housing was mixed but blacks increasingly were excluded from some public places (hotels, restaurants, etc.) or set apart from whites in churches, hospitals, jails, etc.

In the South after 1865, Segregation continued in churches, schools, military units, and government facilities, but blacks commonly had equal access to public accommodations and shared seats on transportation carriers with whites. Racial separation initially resulted from custom or local initiatives, but after 1890, southern legislatures instituted a system of de jure Segregation to govern race relations according to consistent, inflexible rules. States first made separate seating mandatory on railroads, then streetcars and steamboats, and extended the principle to separate waiting rooms at depots and public places. The scope of these Jim Crow laws gradually spread, and after 1910, they began mandating residential Segregation. By 1920, southern Jim Crow laws prohibited most interaction between whites and blacks outside the workplace. De facto Segregation in housing and education hardened in the north.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) placed most Segregation laws beyond legal challenge until its reversal by Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). Responding to the civil rights movement, Congress passed the Civil Rights acts (1964 and 1968). Loving v. Virginia outlawed anti- miscegenation laws. De facto Segregation nevertheless continued to shape patterns of housing and education, especially in the North and West. By the 1991–2 school year, 66 percent of black children attended predominantly nonwhite schools, and 34 percent of them went to schools that were 90–100 percent minority.


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Chicago: Thomas L. Purvis, "Segregation," A Dictionary of American History in A Dictionary of American History (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Reference, 1995), Original Sources, accessed March 23, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CMZJMVBCWWY37ZE.

MLA: Purvis, Thomas L. "Segregation." A Dictionary of American History, in A Dictionary of American History, Cambridge, Mass., Blackwell Reference, 1995, Original Sources. 23 Mar. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CMZJMVBCWWY37ZE.

Harvard: Purvis, TL, 'Segregation' in A Dictionary of American History. cited in 1995, A Dictionary of American History, Blackwell Reference, Cambridge, Mass.. Original Sources, retrieved 23 March 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CMZJMVBCWWY37ZE.