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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
A National Struggle
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Jim Crow Stories

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Spanish American War (1898)
Explosion of The Maine

As wave after wave of racial fury inundated the South at the end of the nineteenth century, a flicker of hope suddenly seemed to appear. America declared war on Spain in 1898, and black soldiers were needed to fight for their country. Out of America's 25,000-man standing army, 2,500 were experienced black veterans. For over twenty years, they had been fighting America's Indian wars on the deserts and plains of the West. The Cheyenne called them "Buffalo Soldiers" for their courage in battle and their rough, shaggy appearance.

Black soldiers eagerly welcomed the Spanish American War. ChaplainWilliam McKinley Chaplain George Prioleau saw the war as an opportunity for the soldiers to prove themselves. "The men are anxious to go. The country will then hear and know of their bravery. The American Negro is always ready and willing to take up arms to fight and lay down his life in defense of his country's honor." Another soldier viewed the war as a chance to strike a blow against Jim Crow. "We left our homes, wives, mothers, sisters and friends to break down that infernal race prejudice and to have a page in history ascribed to us."

As the soldiers traveled through the North on their way to Florida, intermingled crowds of blacks and whites gathered at stations to welcome them. Chaplain Prioleau never forgot the reception they received:
All the way from Northwest Nebraska this regiment was greeted with cheers. While the Ninth Calvary band played, the people would raise their hats, the heavens resound with cheers. The white hand shaking the black hand. The hearty "goodbye and God Bless you."
But when the train crossed into the Jim Crow South, the cheering stopped. When the regiments reached Lakeland, Florida, John Lewis of "The American Negro is always ready and willing to take up arms to fight and lay down his life in defense of his country's honor."the Tenth Cavalry remarked, "Lakeland is a beautiful little town, but with all its beauty, it is hell for the colored people who live here." After a confrontation with local whites, the soldiers were immediately rushed to Spain, where black troops played a major role in Theodore Roosevelt's victory at the battle of San Juan Hill.
But the era of good feeling quickly passed. Victory against Spain drew Americans to Cuba and the Philippines; unfortunately, whites brought Jim Crow along with them. They called the people of color of the island "niggers," and officials denied them their civil and political rights on the grounds they were racially "inferior." By the war's end, African Americans gained little from their important role in the war.

-- Richard Wormser

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Did you Know ...


In 1995, President Clinton ordered that reparations be paid to surviving Buffalo Soldiers.
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