Being Mulatto During Jim Crow: The One-Drop Rule

1 Posted by - January 10, 2019 - CIVIL RIGHTS, JIM CROW, LATEST POSTS

BY: SETH WILLIAMS

With the compromise of 1877 and the end of the Reconstruction Era in the south, southern white legislatures were free to once again codify racism and oppress their minority targets with the full backing of the law. It was a terrifying time to be black in America, as the gains made since the 14th Amendment began to be unraveled by the southern white elite and the North fell silent in the wake of a growing desire to see white America reunited after the bloody civil war.

From the beginning of Reconstruction to the early 1890s, southern blacks made social gains as their land ownership tripled and literacy increased by 40%. Whites and blacks began to grow used to seeing one another daily as black southerners became fully integrated as free American citizens. This didn’t sit well with some southern whites who still felt cheated by the outcome of the civil war. As northern troops withdrew after 1877 and republican state governments collapsed without northern support, the southern legislatures began to pass laws to ensure that the black community would never rise to be equal with whites.

These laws, referred to at Jim Crow laws, faced an issue: no clear definition of race existed that could properly describe to whom the laws applied. The issue of defining “whiteness,” and therefore “blackness,” had precedent, however, in the One-Drop Rule. For many southern states, the matter of who was white and who was black had already been settled socially, and so states began passing One-Drop Rules of their own as they fought to ensure that no one of any heritage other than pure-white was granted the American dream.

The problem existed, though, that black and whites had been intermixing for centuries, and for many individuals, their “blackness” was only defined by their culture; it could not be detected. Thus, the practice of passing, already commonplace during slavery in America, extended into the Jim Crow era as some descendants of blacks found opportunities to conceal their heritage in order to avoid the trials of racism in the south.

For some, passing was the answer for making their life simpler, easier… a means to survive in a cruel society that would fight against them at every turn to prevent their success. For others, though, passing would be a tool- one they could use to, hopefully, help their fellow black men and women find peace, prosperity, and happiness. Such was the case of Herman Plessy.

Plessy, whose status as 1/8th black made it possible for him to pass as white, elected to challenge Louisiana’s Separate Car Act on behalf of the Creole community. Purchasing a first-class ticket for the white car, Plessy refused to give up his seat there after announcing his ethnicity to the train conductor. After being forcibly removed, the case made it’s run to the supreme court and became the landmark case for “Separate but Equal” that would not be overturned for almost 60 years.

A person identified as mixed, colored, creole, or mulatto during the Jim Crow era faced the same hardships and dangers as the other members of the black community. Even when one’s blackness could not be physically observed, southern white legislatures declared that one drop of black blood was all it took to make someone not white. Some mulattos may have had success passing for white away from their homes, but they faced all the same hate, discrimination, and injustice as their darker-skinned brothers and sisters.

Sources:
Davis, F. James. Who Is Black?: One Nation’s Definition. University Park, Pa: Pennsylvania State UP, 2005. Print.
“Jim Crow and Plessy v. Ferguson.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, n.d. Web. 11 May 2017.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

16 Comments

  • Erick Dean Tippett May 13, 2017 - 1:05 am Reply

    This one drop of Negro blood was a main theme in Jerome Kern’s Operetta “Show Boat” where Julie has
    to leave the boat because she has been found to be a ‘mulatto’. This musical became a big hit here in this
    country on December 27 of 1927 and allowed a sick way of life to become romanticized by the ‘american’ public!

  • Joel Fremonde May 15, 2017 - 1:29 pm Reply

    During slavery and Jim Crow White authorities could dictate who is White and who is not and legislate laws defining anyone with a drop of Black DNA as being Black race. Today most Black Americans exclusively,
    accept this racist idiocy. If a person is 75% Nordic race with true blonde hair, blues eyes and is 20% Hispanic, 4% Jewish and one percent Black American, Black America insist the person is one of them. No other race of people on this Earth subscribes to such race idiocy and it shows not only lack of race pride but race self hate. Only a race of inferior people will allow an enemy race to dictate to them who belongs in their group and accept this nonsense.

  • Doc May 26, 2017 - 4:20 pm Reply

    How are white men so angry when they were the ones in the slave cabins.

  • 8ball Pool coins hacklatest Trick April 4, 2019 - 3:32 pm Reply

    As a Newbie, I am always searching online for articles that can aid me. Thank you

  • Law Blog April 16, 2019 - 1:32 pm Reply

    Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

  • Apex Legends Octane April 16, 2019 - 1:37 pm Reply

    That is a great tip especially to those new to the blogosphere. Simple but very precise info… Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read article!

  • gamefly free trial May 3, 2019 - 9:24 am Reply

    These are actually wonderful ideas in on the topic of blogging.

    You have touched some nice points here. Any way keep up wrinting.

  • g May 13, 2019 - 6:24 am Reply

    What’s up to every one, it’s actually a fastidious for me to pay a visit this
    web site, it includes precious Information.

  • Maricela Anshutz May 27, 2019 - 8:33 pm Reply

    Good post. Thanks.

  • gamefly free trial May 31, 2019 - 5:59 pm Reply

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to mention that I’ve
    really loved surfing around your weblog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing on your feed
    and I hope you write once more soon!

  • StepBaday June 4, 2019 - 12:50 pm Reply

    Viagra Generika Anwendung Viagra Purchase Online With Mastercad generic 5mg cialis best price Zithromax Sold Over Counter Acquista Viagra Online Propecia Ipogonadismo

  • gamefly free trial June 4, 2019 - 1:30 pm Reply

    I know this web site offers quality depending articles and additional data, is there any other web page which offers these kinds
    of things in quality?

  • StepBaday June 12, 2019 - 8:47 am Reply

    Brand Name Viagra Sold In Usa Produit 205 order cialis online Viagra In Deutschland Kaufen

  • quest bars cheap June 14, 2019 - 10:16 pm Reply

    I don’t know if it’s just me or if perhaps everyone
    else encountering issues with your blog. It seems like some of the written text
    within your posts are running off the screen. Can somebody else please provide feedback and
    let me know if this is happening to them too? This may be a issue with my
    web browser because I’ve had this happen previously. Kudos

  • cialis June 17, 2019 - 3:32 am Reply
  • Sherryl Landeros June 18, 2019 - 2:26 am Reply

    Wow! How did you comoe up with atht coolpost?

  • Leave a reply