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The Political Economy of Segregation: The Case of Segregated Streetcars

  • Jennifer Roback (a1)

Abstract

The introduction of segregation laws for municipal streetcars is examined. The economics of private and public segregation is analyzed first, taking note of the particular features of the streetcar industry, followed by a discussion of the contemporary debates on streetcar segregation laws in a number of southern cities. The evidence presented suggests that segregation laws were binding constraints and not simply the codification of customary practice. Furthermore, the streetcar companies were not the initiators of segregation and sometimes actively resisted it. These findings are related to several major interpretations of the origins of segregation.

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1 Woodward, C. Vann, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (Oxford, 1959).

2 Ibid., p. 87.

3 Rabinowitz, Howard N., Race Relations in the Urban South, 1865–1890, (Urbana, 1980).

4 Cell, John W., The Highest Stage of White Supremacy (Cambridge, Mass., 1982).

5 Becker, Gary S., The Economics of Discrimination (2nd edn., Chicago, 1973).

6 Some scholars have argued that white southerners had tastes for subordination of blacks rather than tastes for physical distance from blacks. See, for example, Dewey, Donald, “Negro Employment in Southern Industry,” Journal of Political Economy, 60 (08 1952), pp. 279–93. For a more recent discussion of the relative importance of tastes, see Roback, Jennifer, “The Political Economy of Discrimination,” Working Papers in Public Choice, 85–33 (Fairfax, August 1985).

7 Richmond News-Leader, April 25, 1904. For Additional examples of enforcement problems, see the case studies in text for Augusta, Georgia and Mobile, Alabama.

8 The case studies below give numerous instances of black boycotts of the streetcars. See also, Meier, August and Rudwick, Elliot, “The Boycott Movement Against Jim Crow Streetcars in the South, 1900–1906,” Journal of American History, 55 (03 1969), pp. 756–75.

9 Rowley, Charles K. and Peacock, Alan T., Welfare Economics: A Liberal Restatement (London, 1975), chap. 3.

10 Augusta Chronicle, May 21, 1900; Houston Daily Post, Nov. 2, 1903; and Atlanta Journal, Sep. 13, 1906.

11 Augusta Chronicle, May 22, 1900; Memphis Commercial Appeal, Apr. 26, 1903; and Atlanta Journal, Sep. 13, 1906.

12 Augusta Chronicle, May 24, 1900.

13 Kousser, J. Morgan, The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880–1910 (New Haven, 1974).

14 The following discussion is based upon inferences drawn from newspaper accounts. Correspondence with municipal authorities revealed that few systematic records of streetcar operations remain.

15 Parts 526 and 527 of the Georgia criminal code, quoted in the Augusta Chronicle, May 15, 1900. The relevant passages of the law are as follows: Part 526: Railroads doing business in this state shall furnish equal accommodations in separate cars or compartments for white and colored passengers… Part 527: Conductors or other employees in charge of such cars shall assign passengers to their respective cars of compartments of cars, and conductors of dummy, electric and streetcars shall assign all passengers to seats on the cars under their charge, so as to separate the white and colored races as much as practicable and conductors of dummy, electric or streetcars shall have police powers to carry out the provisions of this and the preceding section.

16 Cited in the Augusta Chronicle, August 31, 1898.

17 Ibid., Aug. 31, 1898 and Sept. 13, 1898.

18 Ibid., Aug. 31, 1898.

19 Ibid., May 15, 1900.

20 “ The killing of young Whitney and the subsequent lynching of his murderer brings to mind a similar tragedy in Augusta in August 1873, when Capt. Butler, a gallant confederate soldier was shot dead by a negro Saturday night upon a Broad streetcar,” Quoted in the Augusta Chronicle, May 16, 1900. I surmise that if a similar violent act on a streetcar had occurred more recently, the editor would have mentioned the more recent incident instead.

21 Ibid., May 15, 1900.

22 Ibid., May 23, 1900.

23 Ibid., May 20, 1900.

24 Ibid., May 18, 1900.

25 Ibid., May 23 and 24, 1900. The judge dismissed the case on the grounds that the law in question was a state law, (the city ordinance was still in the proposal stages) and that he as a municipal judge had no authority to enforce a state law

26 Ibid., May 24, 1900.

27 Ibid., May 24, 1900.

28 Ibid., Sept. 13, 1899.

29 The Savannah Tribune, Sep. 16, 1899.

30 Ibid., Sept. 16, 1899. See also the editor's comment on Sept. 23, 1899.

31 Ibid., Oct. 14, 1899.

32 Atlanta Journal, Sep. 14, 1906.

33 Crowe, Charles, “Racial Violence and Social Reform: Origins of the Atlanta Riot of 1906,” Journal of Negro History, 53 (07 1968), p. 245. See also the discussion in Williamson, Joel, The Crucible of Race: Black White Relations in the American South Since Emancipation (New York, 1984), pp. 209–20.

34 Atlanta Journal, Sep. 4, 1906.

35 Ibid., Sept. 13 and 15, 1906.

36 Ibid., Oct. 6, 1906.

37 Crowe, “Racial Violence and Social Reform,” p. 234–56. See also, the Atlanta Journal, during Sep. 1906.

38 Cell, The Highest Stage of White Supremacy.

39 Houston Daily Post, Nov. 1, 1903.

40 Ibid., Nov. 1, 1903.

41 Ibid., Mar. 8, 1904.

42 Ibid., Mar. 8, 1904.

43 Ibid., Mar. 8, 1904.

44 Ibid., June 3, 1904.

45 Floridia Times-Union, Nov. 6, 1901. The final vote was 11 in favor of the ordinance, 6 opposed.

46 Ibid., Nov. 14, 1901.

47 Ibid., Nov. 8 and 9, 1901.

48 The column comments that: “The backbone of the opposition originated with the women, who threatened a boycott of the men of the race if they dared to ride in the separate cars. The company has taken off the separate cars and all passengers are treated alike. Too much praise can not be given these women.” Indianapolis Freeman, Mar. 22, 1902.

49 Florida Times–Union, May 3, 16, and 30, 1905.

50 Ibid., Jun. 6, 1905.

51 Ibid., Jun. 30, 1905.

52 Ibid., July 2, 1905.

53 Meier, August and Rudwick, Elliot, “The Boycott Movement”; Florida Times-Union, July 3, 1905. It is also interesting to note that competition was mentioned during the 1901 boycott. At the first meeting at which the blacks discussed the possibility of a boycott, the newspaper reports that there was an “explanation of the hack system by which the negro race could ride from one end of the city to another for the same fare as on the streetcars, and also have the benefits of the transfer system. There were also a number of hackmen present, and also the president and secretary of the Coachman's Union and they made brief speeches and offered suggestions.” Florida Times-Union, Nov. 8, 1901.

54 Ibid., July 3, 1905 and July 19, 1905.

55 Ibid., July 14, 18 and 19, 1905.

56 Ibid., July 18 and 19, 1905.

57 Ultimately the law was declared unconstitutional because of a clause which made an exception for black nurses traveling with their charges. This was held to be class legislation. Ibid., July 26 and 30, 1905.

58 Ibid., July 23, 1905.

59 Ibid., July 25, 1905.

60 Mobile Daily Register, Nov. 1, 1902.

61 Ibid., Nov. 4, 1902.

62 Ibid., Dec. 2, 1902.

63 Ibid., December 2 and 3, 1902.

64 According to Meier and Rudwick (“The Boycott Movement,” p. 758), the streetcar boy cott was “temporarily successful” in Mobile. It is not clear whether they are refering to the company's refusal to enforce the law as the temporary success.

65 Atlanta Constitution, Sep. 20, 1900. The 47 percent figure comes from the Cleveland Gazette, a black newspaper, on Mar. 16, 1901. Since the information comes from a visitor to Montgomery corresponding with his friends back in Cleveland, the accuracy of his figures is questionable. However, the 25 percent figure comes from the Altanta Constitution, a prestigious white paper which would have no incentive to exaggerate the plight of the railway company.

66 1903 Tenn. Pub. Acts p. 75; Memphis Commerical Appeal, May 30, 1903.

67 Ibid., Mar. 27, Apr. 26, 1903.

68 Ibid., Apr. 26, 1903.

69 Ibid., May 6, 1903.

70 Ibid., May 30, 1903.

71 Ibid., May 30, 1903.

72 Ibid., June 8, 1903; Meier and Rudwick, “The Boycott Movement,” p. 757.

73 Chattanooga Daily Times, July 26, and 28, 1905. Meier and Rudwick, “The Boycott Movement,” p. 765.

74 Chattanooga Daily Times, July 17, 1905.

75 Rabinowitz, Race Relations, pp. 192–94.

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The Journal of Economic History
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  • EISSN: 1471-6372
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