Eric Lott Explains ‘Jim Crow’ in National Geographic Feature

In a new National Geographic feature, Professor Eric Lott (English/Comparative Literature), offers insight into the origins of “Jim Crow,” a shorthand term with long historical roots.
 
The article, “Who Was Jim Crow?”, explains that the term — which came to refer to the official system of discrimination against African Americans in the South — was popularized by Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a white entertainer from New York who performed an act called “Jump, Jim Crow” or “Jumping Jim Crow” beginning in the 1830s.

“He would put on not only blackface makeup, but shabby dress that imitated in his mind — and white people’s minds of the time — the dress and aspect and demeanor of the southern enslaved black person,” Lott tells National Geographic. “‘Jumping Jim Crow’ and just ‘Jim Crow’ generally sort of became shorthand — or one shorthand, anyway — for describing African Americans in this country.” 
 
Still unknown is whether the term originated with Rice. However, his stage name entered the popular culture as he took his minstrelsy show on tour in the U.S. and to England.
 
Referring to the term’s ties to minstrelsy, Lott notes that it is almost “perversely accurate…that it should come to be the name for official segregation and state-sponsored racism.

Submitted on: AUG 11, 2015

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