Serving the High Plains

Representative saluting Jim Crow

Earlier this month, during an event in Philadelphia supporting Donald Trump and the Republican Party, Florida Rep. Byron Donalds made the attention-grabbing assertion that Black families were stronger and more conservative under the Jim Crow era.

“You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together,” Donalds said. “During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — because Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively.”


New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader, called Donalds’ remarks “factually inaccurate.” The Democratic National Committee said it was “absurd to suggest” the Jim Crow era “was anything but a horrific stain on our country’s history.” The NAACP’s president, Derrick Johnson, said Donalds was attempting to “self-benefit using a false narrative.”

According to the Jim Crow Museum at Michigan’s Ferris State University, “Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively, in southern and border states between 1877 and the mid-1960s.” It was both a legal framework to oppress Black Americans and a cultural one that relegated them to the lowest social status, enforced by systemic violence. “All major societal institutions reflected and supported the oppression of black people.”

There are gross inaccuracies with individuals like Donalds, who espouse such horrendously misguided assertions. But the single most important problem is neither the Black family nor the Black community was all that strong or intact under either slavery or Jim Crow, nor were there — in Donalds’s formulation — more Black families.

Slavery was the epitome of the fundamental instability of Black families. The institution relied on the exploitation of slave labor. Black people were forced to have children who were then sold for profit. Families were routinely separated as par for the course.

Upon the conclusion of the presidential election of 1876, 15 white men gathered in a room to figure out a solution to the first Stop the Steal movement.

Known as the Wormley Agreement or the Compromise of 1877, five Supreme Court justices, five senators and five representatives awarded the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes and his vice president, Samuel Tilden, provided he would end Reconstruction. Among the requirements included a detailed verification that the federal government would prohibit demanding that former confederate states recognize the constitutional rights of Black citizens.

As a result, state legislatures in the north and south rapidly and enthusiastically implemented a series of racially discriminatory policies that became known as Jim Crow laws.

For almost a century — from the end of race-based slavery until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — every Black person in America lived under this constitutionally enforced, government-approved system of white supremacy. Black codes created after emancipation became law. Racially segregated schools were mandatory. It was legally permissible to politically disenfranchise Black voters and prohibit non-white people from living wherever they wanted.

It was legal to physically harass, attack or murder any Black person or rape Black women and murder Black children with legal impunity (e.g., Emmett Till, Recy Taylor and numerous other Black women).

It was a system that denied Black taxpayers the privilege of using facilities built and maintained with their tax dollars. In essence, their entire humanity was at the mercy of a white population that was often outright hostile to their well-being.

This is the sort of America that Byron Donalds salutes and encourages Black Americans to adopt.

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. Contact him at:

[email protected]

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