Essay by lextalionisA, May 2003

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Explain the Meaning of Segregation, Why Americans Wanted It and What Was Meant by 'Jim Crow Laws'

Segregation is the process of creating separate facilities within a society for the exclusive and non-interchangeable use by one of two nominally divided groups. It inheres the imposition of a normative moral, ethical and legal framework under which a minority group within a population is usually suppressed. As official doctrine, a policy of segregation represents a more rigorous and thoroughgoing system of state oppression than a widespread and tolerated attitude of discrimination: it empowers those that seek to discriminate with the full authority of law and state, and justifies that which is unjustifiable in an integrated society where the aspiration is to equality. In the early part of the 20th century segregation flourished in the United States, particularly in the south where there was a disproportionately large African-American population.

The segregation of black and white American citizens was borne out of slavery and its attendant moral system -in many ways the former is simply a direct adaption of the latter.

Since the founding of modern America in the 16th century, European settlers had imported slaves from West Africa to North America and the Caribbean, where they were set to work in agriculture and primitive industry. Following the Enlightenment, the settlers would be forced to square their possession of slaves with their Christian ethical beliefs. The way they did this was to denigrate the status of blacks to that of lower order creatures, much as if they were animals. This belief system would persist among many until as late as the early 1900s: slaves provided cheap labour, they could also be housed cheaply and fed on the minimum required to sustain working life. As the property of their masters slaves were denied...