Along the Color Line
|The State of African Americans in the South||Next|
|Digital History ID 3177|
In 1900, the plight of African Americans in the South was bleak. The average life expectancy of an African American was 33 years--a dozen years less than that of a white American and about the same as a peasant in early 19th century India.
Thirty-five years after the abolition of slavery, the overwhelming majority of African Americans toiled in agriculture on land that they didn't own. Nine out of ten African Americans lived in the South (almost the same proportion as in 1860), and three out of four were tenant farmers or sharecroppers.
At the beginning of the 20th century, some 44.5 percent of all African American adults were illiterate. In 1915, South Carolina spent one-twelfth as much on the education of a black child as on a white child. In 1916, only 19 black youths were enrolled in public high schools in North Carolina and 310 were enrolled in Georgia.
Increasingly, African Americans in the South were subject to a degrading system of social segregation and deprived of the right to vote and other prerogatives of citizenship. This system of racial discrimination based on law and custom was called "Jim Crow," after a mid-19th century black-faced minstrel act. Beginning with Mississippi in 1890, every Southern state, except Kentucky and Tennessee, had disenfranchised the vast majority of its African American population by 1907 through the use of literacy tests and poll taxes.