33 Colorized Jim Crow Pictures That Depict The Real Brutality Of American Racism

Published November 4, 2020

From segregation laws to white supremacist terrorism, discover the horrific history of the Jim Crow era in these newly colorized photos.

Jim Crow Photos
Jim Crow Photographs
Jim Crow Images
Jim Crow
33 Colorized Jim Crow Pictures That Depict The Real Brutality Of American Racism
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Most Americans know about the Jim Crow era and the horrific racism that happened during this time. But the colorized Jim Crow pictures in the gallery above truly bring this fraught period to life.

The Jim Crow era started in America shortly after the Civil War and lasted well into the late 1960s. So for about 100 years, white lawmakers kept racial inequality intact through policies that legally enforced segregation between white and Black people in America. It was a time of unrepentant racism that was captured in many horrific photographs from the era.

Take a look at some of the most gut-wrenching Jim Crow pictures in the gallery above — which are even more shocking in color.

A Country Divided By Slavery

Jim Crow Pictures

Bettmann/Getty Images
A classroom in New York sits nearly empty after white students refuse to attend their desegregated school in 1964.

After four years of the Civil War between the Confederacy and the Union, reconciling the warring factions into one nation was bound to be a long-haul challenge. The contentious time period that followed would later be known as the Jim Crow era.

When discussing Jim Crow America, it's important to remember that the root cause of the Civil War was the desire of the Confederacy to uphold the enslavement of Black people — a key factor in the economic boom of the South, where slaves labored to pick cotton and harvest sugar.

After the war, the U.S. government enshrined the freedom of former Black slaves into the Constitution in the 13th Amendment. Soon after, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States — including former slaves. And then the 15th Amendment gave Black men the right to vote.

But despite these protections, the country's Black population still struggled tremendously during the Reconstruction Era between 1865 and 1877.

Former slaves who were supposed to be able to relish in their newfound freedom were instead subjected to terrorism and violence by racist whites who could not accept equality with Black people.

Hate groups like The Knights of the White Camellia, the Ku Klux Klan, and The Innocents famously paraded in the streets and targeted newly enfranchised Black people to dissuade them from voting in the elections.

The white authorities did little to quell the violence.

Jim Crow Pictures: America's Tragedy In Photographs

Civil rights icon and late U.S. Congressman John Lewis shares what it was like growing up in the Jim Crow South.

After the Civil War, racist white lawmakers began to enact discriminatory policies that legally denied rights to Black Americans. These would eventually become known as the Jim Crow laws.

The Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that helped maintain racial inequality, primarily through segregation of white people and "colored people," an outdated term once used to refer to Black people and other non-whites.

These laws affected every facet of life, and their impact can be seen in the Jim Crow pictures above, some of which show Black people being harassed or even attacked by white mobs.

American artist Matt Loughrey, whose work often focuses on historical subjects, colorized some of these photos to highlight the horrific reality of everyday racial violence during Jim Crow.

While it may seem shocking, the concept of segregation existed before Jim Crow — and it actually originated in the North. During the 19th century, many white people in Northern states wanted to keep themselves separate from free Black people. In fact, the first known reference to a "Jim Crow car" appeared in a Massachusetts newspaper in 1838.

However, many of these discriminatory practices were legally challenged — in some cases by free Black people — before slavery was abolished.

But after the Civil War, segregation found a renewed purpose through white lawmakers in the South, who used it to push a false "separate but equal" narrative based on race. In reality, facilities and services that were designated for Black people were frequently neglected, damaged, or subpar.

Jim Crow segregation touched every aspect of daily life, from public facilities like water fountains to leisure activities like playing ball. The extreme separation between whites and Blacks through Jim Crow laws — also known as the "Black Codes" — gave way to racist social norms at large. These unspoken rules are sometimes referred to as "Jim Crow etiquette."

For example, a Black man could not initiate a handshake with a white man because it implied they were socially equal, and Black couples weren't allowed to show affection in public because it offended white people. Breaking these racial rules typically led to violent consequences for Black people during the Jim Crow era.

According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 4,743 lynchings were recorded from 1882 to 1968. Of the total known lynchings, 72 percent were against Black victims. These numbers, the organization notes, do not account for the countless lynchings that went unreported.

Racial Inequalities Today

Jim Crow Era

Wikimedia CommonsAn African American military policeman in front of the "colored" entrance in Columbus, Georgia. Circa 1942.

Although Jim Crow supposedly ended in the late 1960s, the far-reaching consequences of the racist laws of the era can still be felt today.

It's no coincidence that social inequality issues like mass incarceration, voter suppression, and police brutality disproportionately affect Black populations. The root cause of these issues can be traced back to Jim Crow.

These deep-seated challenges contribute to the current racial wealth gap in the U.S. as well. In 2016, the median family wealth for Black households was about $17,600 compared to the $171,000 median among white families. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 19 percent of Black households have zero net worth as of 2019.

As the New York Times put it: "Today's racial wealth gap is perhaps the most glaring legacy of American slavery and the violent economic dispossession that followed."

It's clear Black Americans still suffer from the impact of Jim Crow half a century after its alleged end. The influence of these laws can only be glimpsed in the Jim Crow pictures above.


After taking a look at these Jim Crow pictures, learn about the brutal lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till that galvanized the civil rights movement. Then, find out the history behind the iconic photo of Elizabeth Eckford, who was part of the Little Rock Nine.

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