American History as It Happened

MODULE TWO: 1877-1899


Analyze: Carefully re-read Document Three, “A Rigorous Ohio Policy Wanted, Unsigned article, The Nation, January 24, 1889” and Document Six, “The Week, Unsigned Editorial [about Separate but Equal Regulations], The Nation, May 23, 1889.” Consider the way both articles address “separate but equal” treatment of African Americans. Then answer the following questions.

1. For each passage, describe the laws and/or tactics used to provide “separate but equal” treatment of African Americans.

In an Ohio town, African American students were denied entry into schools attended by white students, despite the lifting of so-called discriminatory “black laws.” When one of the fathers of an African American student attempted to escort his children into the school, protesters used force to intimidate him.

In Georgia, an African American preacher bought a first-class ticket for rail travel but was not permitted to sit in a car with white passengers. Instead, he was directed to cars designated for black passengers only. These ‘Jim Crow’ facilities were supposed to be of equal quality, but clearly were not. In the preacher’s case, half of the car had been designated for smokers.

2. Compare the two texts. What similarities and/or differences do you note about the where the described events take place? What roles did each region play in the Civil War? What might those similarities and/or differences suggest about the nation as a whole?

Document Three describes events in Georgia, one of the original seven states to secede from the Union. Document Six describes events in Ohio, which was part of the Union during the Civil War and played a key role in the Underground Railroad. Though the majority of people in Ohio supported the emancipation of slaves, the state was home to a number of “Peace Democrats” who opposed the war and supported slavery.

The discrimination described in each article suggests that people in both the North and South—and the nation as a whole—still struggled with the issue of race and the treatment of African Americans.

3. When was each document written? How do their dates reflect events in the nation and what do their tones and timing suggest about attitudes towards the doctrine of “separate but equal”?

The documents were published a just few months apart—Document Three on January 24, 1889, and Document Six on May 23, 1889.

The writer of Document Three urges the federal government to enforce a “rigorous policy” in Ohio to ensure equal treatment of African Americans. This article was written a few weeks before a new president—Benjamin Harrison—was to take office on March 4. The author urges Harrison to take immediate, strong action in support of the rights of African American students and parents, and goes so far as to suggest that the weak response of Ohio’s governor should earn him a stay in prison.

Just four months later, the Inter-State Commission ruled that “separate but equal” accommodations were fair and acceptable treatment of blacks. The writer, who notes that the Macon, Georgia, newspaper wholeheartedly embraces the ruling, appears to question the decision in subtle fashion by adding “This plan, it [the Macon newspaper] thinks, meets the full requirements of justice to all, and it considers it the most satisfactory arrangement that can be made for both races.”

Seven years after these developments, the US Supreme Court decision Plessy vs. Fergusson declared that the doctrine of separate but equal was constitutional.

4. In each document, what tensions do you notice between local and federal control?

In Document Three, the author states that residents of Felicity and local officials ignore and resent federal interference in the control of their schools, and argues passionately for intervention by the federal government. Document Six, however, shows that an interstate commission could rule on a case whose circumstances took place within Georgia because it involved the nation’s railway system—and could affirm the state’s rule.