The first laws passed in the South to impose statewide segregation in public facilities, instituted in the 1880s and 1890s, applied to railroad car seating. During this period, railway lines spread rapidly from cities to rural communities. In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court validated these early “Jim Crow” laws when it ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that a Louisiana statute requiring “separate but equal” accommodations for white and black railroad passengers did not conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment clause guaranteeing all citizens equal protection of the laws. (Jim Crow, the colloquial term for segregation, referred to a blackface character popular on the minstrel stage.) Jim Crow legislation extended throughout the South to schools, hotels, restaurants, streetcars, buses, theaters, hospitals, parks, courthouses, and even cemeteries. Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1946 that a Virginia statute requiring segregated seating interfered with interstate commerce and was thus invalid, the following Jim Crow travel laws remained in force in 1954. That same year, the Court declared in Brown v. Board of Education that separate public schools were “inherently unequal” and thus unconstitutional. In 1955, the black community of Montgomery, Alabama, organized a boycott of the city’s segregated bus system. In 1956, the Supreme Court ruled Alabama’s laws requiring segregated buses unconstitutional. The specific wording of these Jim Crow laws, crafted to maintain the status quo, revealed deep anxieties about race. By allocating to railroad and bus officials “police powers” to enforce segregated seating and in the case of Virginia, power to determine the race of passengers, state legislatures sought to ensure segregation. By exempting certain categories of persons, specifically nurses, servants, and prisoners, the laws also avoided disrupting ways of life that did not threaten tenets of white supremacy.
DIGEST OF JIM-CROW LAWS AFFECTING PASSENGERS IN INTERSTATE TRAVEL
Railroads (title 48, secs. 186, 196, 197, and 464)
Section 186: Separate but equal waiting rooms.
Section 196: Separate but equal coaches are listed first. Otherwise, a partition is possible in some instances.
Section 197: The conductor must tell each passenger where to sit, that is, in the car or section of the car indicated for his race. If a passenger does not comply, he will be ejected from the train and the railroad will not be liable to damage claims resulting from the ejection. (This law is not operative in the case of passengers of either race who enter the State on a trip from another State which has no such law.)
Section 464: Anyone convicted of violating the above provision will be fined not more than $100.
Buses (title 48, sec. 301, subsecs. 31a, 31b, and 31c)
Section 301 (31a): Separate waiting rooms or space, and separate ticket windows but they must be equal; equal but separate accommodations on each vehicle.
Section 301 (31b): Operators of passenger stations and carriers authorized to provide separate but equal accommodations.
Section 301 (31c): Unlawful to willfully refuse or fail to comply with any reasonable rule, regulation or directive; penalty is $500 maximum. . . .
Railroads (ch. 18–2, secs. 205 through 210, inclusive)
Section 205: There shall be equal accommodations for all.
Section 206: The equal accommodations shall be in separate cars or compartments of single car, the amount of space set aside to be reflective of the usual proportion of races in travel at that place.
Section 207: The conductor will assign separate places (to the extent practicable); the conductor is given the police power to carry this out.
Section 208: When a passenger has been assigned an accommodation, he must stay there. The conductor and others of the traincrew have the power to eject passengers.
Section 209: Nurses and servants are exempted from the provisions of this act.
Section 210: This separation must be maintained on sleeping cars also. Car officials have the power to require and maintain this separation and have the power to punish if the public does not maintain it.
Buses (title 68, chs. 5 and 6, secs. 513 and 616)
Section 513: Lines may carry colored or white or both in separate vehicles or on same vehicles under conditions set forth by the Georgia Public Service Commission.
Section 616: Same general provisions as 513. . . .
Railroads (title 45, ch. 6, secs. 521 through 534, inclusive)
Section 521: Conductors or train officials may refuse to admit someone to a car, and have the power, after a passenger is admitted, to eject him for refusal to pay his fare or conducting himself poorly. Carriers must not discriminate in application of this provision with regard to race.
Section 522: Waiting rooms shall be separate but equal.
Section 523: A company not making assignments based on race as required in this act may be fined $25 to $50.
Section 524: If a passenger refuses an assignment made by a company, he faces a fine of $25 or 30 days.
Section 525: A passenger may be ejected from a station for refusal to go to the place assigned him.
Section 526: This law does not apply to nurses and prisoners.
Section 527: This law must be conspicuously posted.
Section 528: Separate coaches or compartments within coaches must be maintained and they must be equal.
Section 529: Conductors will assign accommodations to the passenger who will not be permitted anywhere else.
Section 530: If the driver does not assign passengers to accommodations in this way he may be fined from $100 to $500.
Section 531: The passenger must stay where assigned. If not, or if the conductor insists on sending passenger to the wrong section, either the passenger or the conductor may get $25 or 20 days.
Section 532: The conductor is empowered to eject any passenger who is uncooperative in observing the provisions of this act and the company will not be liable for damage claims in this connection.
Section 533: Same as 526 above.
Section 534: This law must be posted conspicuously.
Buses (title 45, ch. 4, secs. 194 through 196, inclusive)
Section 194: All carriers must provide equal but separate seats for white and colored. No person of one race is allowed to be in the section set aside for the other race.
Section 195: If a person enters the section set aside for the other race, he may be penalized by a fine of $25 or 30 days. Also, he may be ejected from the coach and the company will not be liable for damage claims. If a driver insists on improper seating, he faces the same penalty as above.
Section 196: Company violation of this act will result, upon conviction, in a fine of $50 to $300 or 10 to 60 days. . . .
Railroads (ch. 60, art. 12, secs. 94 through 98, inclusive; secs. 101 and 103, and 135 through 137, inclusive)
Section 94: Separate but equal station and travel accommodations shall be provided, including steamboats. Separate cars shall be maintained or separate compartments shall be used under the supervision of the State utilities commission. Exempted from this provision are sleeping cars, express trains through the State, servants and prisoners.
Section 95: Exemptions to the act may be granted in a few cases of small trains operating in out of the way places.
Section 96: In emergencies, a car may be apportioned by the conductor (that is, different races may occupy the car without a partition as long as races are seated separately in the car).
Section 97: Company violation of this act will result in fines of $100 for each day of violation.
Section 98: In one-car trains and similar conveyances, the utilities commission will decide on a solution to the usual provision of maintaining jim-crow toilets.
Section 101: No passenger may enter any part of the train if the conductor has told him not to. To do so, constitutes a misdemeanor for which a fine of $10 may be imposed.
Section 103: A passenger may be ejected for lack of payment or for violating the above provisions.
Section 135: (The following three provisions are for streetcar and interurban trolleys only.) This provision reads the same as No. 94 above plus the fact that these vehicles are to be apportioned by the conductor in accordance with the usual amount of traffic of either race.
Section 136: Whites must take seats from the front and colored from the rear. If a passenger is told to move in order to maintain this pattern of seating, he must do it or face a misdemeanor charge for which he may be fined $50 or 30 days. Company officials have police powers to carry out the provisions of this act.
Section 137: These companies will not be liable for mistakes in seating.
Buses (ch. 62, art. 121, secs. 71 and 72)
Section 71: Separate but equal terminal and carrier accommodations shall be provided; exceptions made in the cases of servants, prisoners, and charter buses.
Section 72: Any person, passenger or company violating this act is guilty of a misdemeanor, the fine for which is $100 maximum for the first offense and $500 maximum for each subsequent offense.
Railroads (title 13, ch. 5., secs. 181 through 191, inclusive)
Section 181: Separate but equal cars or compartments shall be provided.
Section 182: Separate but equal waiting rooms also shall be provided and plainly marked. It is unlawful to be in a section other than that indicated by a passenger’s own race.
Section 183: This section tells where in the statutes the definition of “Negro” is to be found.
Section 184: Any car “with good and substantial” wood partition with a door in it shall be considered here a separate car. The sections, however, must be plainly marked.
Section 185: Company violations of this act may bring penalties ranging from $100 to $1,000 on any one run.
Section 186: A passenger not remaining in assigned accommodations commits a misdemeanor for which he may be fined $5 to $25; also, he may be ejected from the car or station and the company shall not be liable for damage claims.
Section 187: Exceptions are as follows: Prisoners, servants, and railroad employees. The State corporation commission can revoke this ban temporarily and briefly at the depots of towns in which no Negroes reside.
Section 188: This law must be posted conspicuously.
Section 189: Extra or special trains may be run if the company so desires.
Section 190: The conductors have the power to assign separate places and enforce maintenance of the separation and to eject any passenger violating this separation. The company shall not be liable for damage arising from such ejections.
Section 191: Money taken as fines for infractions of these regulations shall be given to the schools of the county in which the incident has occurred. . . .
Railroads (title 56, ch. 13, art. 5, secs. 390 through 404, inclusive)
Section 390: All electric railroads, whether urban or other, must have separate cars or compartments. Violations of this regulation may result in the imposition of a fine of $50 to $250.
Section 391: These accommodations must be equal.
Sections 392 and 393: A company employee or agent may reapportion the seating, if necessary, compelling passengers to move as often as may be necessary. Provided, however, that no white and colored persons shall occupy contiguous seats. A company agent failing to carry out these provisions may be fined $5 to $25. A passenger who refuses to act in accordance with these regulations, after having been told of his violation of the law, is guilty of a misdemeanor for which he may be fined $5 to $25. Furthermore, the passenger may be ejected, and may secure no part of his fare in return.
Section 394: Conductors or other train officials are given police powers which extend to chasing on foot violators of this or a property protection law. This conductor has all the power of a real policeman until the culprit is given over to a real policeman. He is also the sole and final judge of a passenger’s race when a passenger refuses to state his race.
Section 395: Exceptions: Nurses, servants, lunatics, railroad employees, and prisoners.
Section 396: Same provisions as 390 above but with reference to steam trains.
Section 397: Same as 391 above but with respect to steam trains.
Section 398: Company failure to comply with the provisions stated herein may result in a fine of $300 to $1,000 for each offense.
Section 399: Train officials can and must assign seating places. They are final judges of race. A passenger refusing to accept this assignment and to remain in the assigned place can be ejected by train officials and the company is not liable for damage claims.
Section 400: Train officials not obeying section 399 above are subject to a fine of $25 to $50 for each offense.
Section 401: Train officials can apportion an undivided car in case of a large, unexpected crowd and space is needed.
Section 402: Exceptions: Same as 395 above plus sleeping cars, caboose passengers, and through trains.
Section 403: The circuit courts of the county in which the incident took place shall have jurisdiction over any litigation arising from the provisions of this act.
Section 404: Sleeping cars, dining cars, and other concessions operated by the carriers on trains for the convenience of the carrier’s passengers are permitted to exclude and serve whomever they wish.
Buses (title 56, ch. 12, art. 10, secs. 324 through 330, inclusive, and sec. 335)
Section 324: Bus drivers are given the same duties as train officials and are given the same (police) powers to carry out those duties.
Section 325: Waiting rooms in bus terminals must be clean, habitable, and decent. On some occasions and in some circumstances, the State may demand that racially separated waiting rooms be maintained.
Section 326: All carriers must set apart and designate certain areas of the bus for occupancy by the two race groups. Infraction of this regulation may occasion the imposition of a fine of $50 to $250.
Section 327: But all this must be equal.
Sections 328 and 329: The driver may change the amount of space set aside for either racial group as such changes are needed. He is also empowered to compel passengers to move in any way and as often as necessary. If the driver fails to discharge this responsibility he may be fined $5 to $25. Any passenger not sitting or moving as directed by the driver may also be fined $5 to $25. Furthermore, this passenger can neither sue for damages nor secure a fare refund.
Section 330: The driver is given police powers and shall be the final judge of race whenever a passenger refuses to disclose his race.
Section 335: Anyone knowingly not complying with these provisions can be fined $100 maximum for the first offense and $500 maximum for each offense thereafter. Each day of offense shall constitute a separate offense.
Source: Amending Interstate Commerce Act (Segregation of Passengers), Hearings before the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, House of Representatives, 83rd Congress, 2nd Session, May 12–14, 1954. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1954, 110–16.