33 Photos Of Segregation That Show A Country Divided By Race

Published August 23, 2017
Updated August 10, 2022

While these photos might seem far removed from our present, the legacy of segregation in America can still be seen today.

Segregation In America Fence
African-American children look through the fence at a playground legally forbidden from them. Alabama. 1956.Gordon Parks/Getty Images

Segregation In America Separate Fountains
Two men drink from segregated water fountains. Location and date unspecified.

Angry Crowd Eckford
Elizabeth Eckford ignores the hostile screams and stares of fellow students on her first day of school. She was one of the nine African-American students whose integration into Arkansas' Little Rock Central High School was ordered by a federal court following legal action by the NAACP. September 6, 1957.Bettmann/Getty Images

Bus Smoke
During the Freedom Riders' travels throughout the South to protest segregated busses, one bus was set on fire by an angry mob. Luckily, everyone on the bus was able to escape without injury. Location unspecified. 1961.Bettmann/Getty Images

Finger Point Gray
Fifteen-year-old Johnny Gray points a warning finger at one of the two white boys who tried to force him and his sister, Mary, from the sidewalk as they walked to school in Little Rock, Arkansas on September 16, 1958.Bettmann/Getty Images

Blocking The Door
Alabama Governor George Wallace stands at the door of the University of Alabama in protest of integration. June 11, 1963.Warren K. Leffler/Wikimedia Commons

Hit With Hose
The spring of 1963 brought protest against police brutality and discrimination to Birmingham, Alabama. Police chief Bull Connor famously turned fire hoses on protesters, and used attack dogs and his own fists to physically beat unarmed people – including women and children.Charles Moore/Getty Images

Nervous Girl
A nervous young girl sits in the front row. She is the only black girl in her newly integrated class. Tennessee. 1957. Don Cravens/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Man Kicked
Benny Oliver, former Jackson, Mississippi policeman, viciously kicks Memphis Norman, an African-American student from nearby Wiggins who had been waiting along with two other students to be served at a segregated lunch counter. The rumor of possible civil rights actions in the town caused onlookers to cheer the beating. May 28, 1963.Bettmann/Getty Images

Race Mixing Protest
Demonstrators protest against the integration of Little Rock, Arkansas' Central High School. 1959.Wikimedia Commons

Bus Passengers
[Original caption] "Despite a court ruling on desegregating buses, white and blacks continue to be divided by their own choice." Texas. 1956.Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

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

Waiting Room Train
Durham, North Carolina. 1940.Jack Delano/PhotoQuest/Getty Images

School Sign
African-American students arrive at Baltimore, Maryland's newly integrated Southern High School as white students walk behind with a sign reading "Southern don't want negroes." 1954.Bettmann/Getty Images

Ruby Bridges
Six-year-old Ruby Bridges is escorted from school by US Marshals. Bridges was the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis in 1960.Wikimedia Commons

Lunch Counter Segregation In America
A white woman hurriedly bars the way as African-American people were about to enter the lunch counter of this downtown department store in Memphis to protest the segregation policy of the establishment. 1961.Bettmann/Getty Images

Colored Mbiti
Kenyan student David Mbiti encounters segregation for the first time in a bus terminal. Georgia. 1960. Ted Russell/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Water Fountain Tree Sign
A boy drinks from a "colored" water fountain in Halifax, North Carolina. 1938.John Vachon/Library of Congress

Military Police Motorcycle Sign
An African-American military policeman on a motorcycle in front of the "colored" MP entrance. Columbus, Georgia. 1942.Wikimedia Commons

Segregation Interstate
Atlanta, Georgia. 1956.Bettmann/Getty Images

Segregation Taxi
New York. Date unspecified.New York Public Library

Backs Cab
"White Only" taxis. Georgia. 1962.Warren K Leffler/PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Classroom Black Students
Inside an all-black classroom. Virginia. 1953. Hank Walker/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Overcrowded Segregation
From 1959 to 1961, there were no public school facilities in Prince Edward County, Virginia for the estimated 1,700 black children there. The 1,400 white children attended private schools financed by state, county, and private contributions made in lieu of tax payments. This photo shows black students attending school in a one-room shack.Bettmann/Getty Images

Segregation In America Drink
A young man drinks from a "colored" at a streetcar terminal. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 1939.Russell Lee/Library of Congress

Segregation In America Theatre
Instead of employing a separate entrance, some entire establishments were simply designated for "colored people.” Mississippi. Circa 1937.Dorothea Lange/Library of Congress

Stairs Admission
To gain access to the "colored" entrance of this theater, you’d better be able to ascend an outdoor flight of stairs. Mississippi. 1939. Marion Post Wolcott/Wikimedia Commons

White Tenants
A sign directly opposite the Sojourner Truth homes, a new U.S. federal housing project in Detroit, Michigan. A riot was caused by white neighbors' attempts to prevent African-American tenants from moving in. 1942.Arthur S. Siegel/Library of Congress

Segregation Sign Protest
Demonstrators picketing over lunch counter segregation. Georgia. 1960.Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Rips Up Sign
A white teenager tears up the sign of a black protestor picketing variety stores protesting their segregation policies. Tallahassee, Florida. 1960.Underwood Archives/Getty Image

Little Rock Protest Watch
A boy watches as crowds of segregationist demonstrators walk to Arkansas' Little Rock Central High to protest the first African-American students in a white school. 1957.Wikimedia Commons

Race Mixing Sign
A woman and a child, both of whom refused to identify themselves, march in front of the Arkansas Capitol in Little Rock in protest of the scheduled integration of this city's high schools. 1957.Bettmann/Getty Images

Soldiers Little Rock Protest
Soldiers escort the first African-American students to integrate Little Rock, Arkansas' Central High School on September 24, 1957.Bettmann/Getty Images

Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Condoleezza Rice are just some of the names that Americans tend to offer when suggesting that the United States is long past the days of Jim Crow. While such a suggestion is certainly debatable and in many ways demonstrably untrue, what isn't debatable is the fact that simply in terms of time, Jim Crow is not that far removed from the present day.

In reality, some of the last of the major legal restrictions on African-Americans were torn down less than just 50 years ago with the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which disallowed racial discrimination in terms of housing opportunities. The landmark Voting Right Act of 1965, which did away with most racial discrimination at the polls, came just a few years earlier, as did the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But for nearly a century before those three acts were passed, the Jim Crow era of racial segregation in America reigned supreme.

When the Jim Crow laws were put into effect following the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, African-Americans' status, especially in the South, was defined largely as "separate but equal."

However, as the photos above suggest, racial segregation in America was indeed separate — but not equal at all. Instead, the Jim Crow laws led to discrimination within almost every facet of segregated society, in ways that can still be felt today.

Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, legislators and businesses have used less blatantly racist laws and policies to effectively uphold segregation in America. These include policies like "redlining," a policy that continued into the 1980s in which African-American neighborhoods were singled out to receive fewer loans, worse insurance policies, and less healthcare.

In more recent years, voter ID laws have generated controversy amid reports showing that they discriminate against racial minorities in ways that keep them away from the polls.

And just a few decades ago, laws like these were far more overt than they are today. The powerful images of segregation above are certainly proof of that.


For more on Jim Crow laws, check out this short — and chilling — documentary:

After this look at segregation in America, see some of the most powerful images from the early days of school integration in the 1950s. Then, discover how the Great Depression impacted African-Americans.

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