This glossary defines terms relevant to teaching and understanding the Jim Crow era in the United States. The glossary may be particularly useful for K-12 students learning about the topic. This list of terms was created by Sarah Carrier, North Carolina Research and Instruction Librarian at Wilson Special Collections Library.

13th Amendment

1865 – Legally abolished slavery.

14th Amendment

1866 – Equal access to the law, guarantee of citizenship.

15th Amendment

1869 – Voting rights cannot be denied due to race, color, or “past servitude.” This granted the right for all male citizens to vote.


Before a war; before the American Civil War.

Black Codes

Laws passed by southern states after the Civil War in order to restrict the rights of the formerly enslaved, to limit their choice in employment, and to prevent them from owning property. The Black Codes are often confused with Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation.


Popular theatrical style during the 19th century. Makeup, initially burnt cork or coal, was applied to the faces and limbs of white performers presenting a racist caricature of Black people.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

This 1954 decision of the US Supreme Court said that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional. The case overturned Plessy v. Ferguson.


Derogatory term for an opportunist, specifically used to describe Northerners coming to the South during Reconstruction.

Civil Rights Act of 1866

First US law affirming that all citizens are equally protected, therefore making it illegal to discriminate in employment and housing on the basis of race. The act did not establish federal penalties for violations, however.

Civil Rights Act of 1875

Guaranteed that everyone, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, was entitled to the same treatment in public accommodations. Sections of the act were declared unconstitutional in 1883 by the US Supreme Court.


Congress of Racial Equality. Founded in 1942. Motto: Making Equality a Reality.

Emancipation Proclamation

1863 - Symbolically put an end to slavery in the United States (including the Confederacy).

Enforcement Acts

Passed at the federal level 1870-1871. Meant to protect rights of southern Blacks following ratification of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution as part of Reconstruction and to diminish the power of the Ku Klux Klan.

Freedmen’s Bureau

Established by an act of Congress on March 3, 1865. Formally known as the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, it was intended to help formerly enslaved Black Americans in the aftermath of the Civil War. The Bureau provided food, housing and medical aid, established schools and offered legal assistance. It also attempted to settle the formerly enslaved on land confiscated or abandoned during the war.

Grandfather Clause

Southern states passed “grandfather clauses” protecting illiterate whites from being disenfranchised due to literacy requirements to vote. This loophole exempted any citizen whose grandfather had been eligible to vote in 1867 from other voting requirements, including literacy tests. Only whites were eligible to vote prior to the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870.

Jim Crow

“Jim Crow” laws imposed segregation on Blacks in the South after the Civil War. Jim Crow laws forced African Americans to live, eat, travel, and work separately from whites. The term comes from the racist Jim Crow character played by blackface actor Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice in minstrel shows in the early 1830s.

Ku Klux Klan (KKK)

The Klan is a violent hate group whose purpose is to protect the interests of white Americans. First formed in 1865 and flourished in the South during Reconstruction. The Klan saw a resurgence in the 1920s and reached a nationwide level, then diminished again until the 1950s.


Mob violence culminating in the murder of someone for a perceived crime, often without a legal trial. Whites used lynching to terrorize Black people.


The intermarriage, cohabitation, and sexual relations of people of different races. Anti-miscegenation laws were passed by many states during the Jim Crow era criminalizing whites intermarrying with non-whites.


National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Founded in 1909. Their charter stated, “To promote equality of rights and to eradicate caste or race prejudice among the citizens of the United States; to advance the interest of colored citizens; to secure for them impartial suffrage; and to increase their opportunities for securing justice in the courts, education for the children, employment according to their ability and complete equality before law.”

Plessy v. Ferguson

The 1896 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities known as "separate but equal."

Poll Tax

A tax that must be paid in order to be eligible to vote. During Jim Crow, many southern states required a poll tax for voter registration, and along with other legal obstacles to voting like literacy requirements, Black citizens were targeted for disfranchisement.

Radical Reconstruction, Congressional Reconstruction

In 1867 the U.S. Congress, dominated by Radical Republicans, passed several laws called the Reconstruction Acts, mandating major reforms in the South. Radical Reconstruction officially ended with the Compromise of 1877, in which the white South agreed to accept the Republican candidate for President in return for the withdrawal of all federal troops.

Reconstruction Acts

Reconstruction Amendments are the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution.

Reconstruction Era

Period in the United States, officially 1865-1877, after the Civil War; specifically, the program imposed by Congress upon the former Confederate States, 1863-1877, to reform the nation.


Any policy for separating people based on race.


A form of tenant farming that developed in the South after the Civil War in which workers farm a plot of land in exchange for supplies and a share of the crop.


Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Founded in 1960.

Wilmington Massacre

A coup in Wilmington, North Carolina - the illegal seizure of power from an elected government by white supremacists on November 10, 1898. During this event, Black citizens were forced from the city of Wilmington and an unknown number of them were killed. Also sometimes called a “race riot” or an “uprising.”

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