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A policy predicated upon the physical separation of racial groups and practised in the USA, particularly in the southern states, from the late nineteenth century until the 1970s. Opposition to segregation from the 1950s onward fuelled the civil rights movement. The system of excluding members of one race from public facilities, institutions, or positions was informally in place from colonial times. The informal segregation persisted after the Civil War, but was placed on a legal footing in the late nineteenth century, most famously in the 1896 Plessey v. Ferguson case. For the first half of the twentieth century, exclusion or second-class provision for African Americans and non-Whites was thus maintained in public transportation, education, entertainment, and religious and military organizations. This was known as the ‘Jim Crow’ system, named after earlier caricature portrayals of Blacks. Whites and African Americans were leading separate lives outside (and usually inside) the workplace, where people of colour tended to hold subordinate positions when employed in White organizations.

African–American groups responded in protest in different ways. Marcus Garvey and the Black Consciousness movement sought to stimulate Black nationalism and pride, while other groups favoured integration and gradual change. The policy of the increasingly influential NAACP was not to challenge segregation directly but to emphasize the inequality of separate provision. The Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Topeka struck directly at this perspective. Civil rights legislation and further court decisions followed, until all forms of legal segregation, including legislation relating to inter–racial marriage, were outlawed and given the morally repugnant status accorded to South African apartheid. However, statistical evidence suggests that informal segregation, particularly in housing and education, persisted into the new millennium.

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