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Streetcar Terminal 1939

An African American man drinks from a water cooler labeled “Colored” in a streetcar terminal in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in July 1939.

Racial segregation in the Untied States was enforced through Jim Crow laws at state and local levels from the late 1900s into the mid 20th century, reversing political and economic gains made by African Americans during the Reconstruction period. Especially in the South, persons of color were barred from services utilized by white people.

Based on the legal principle of "separate but equal," Jim Crow laws and state constitutional provisions mandated segregation of public schools, public places, public transportation, and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains between white and black people. Facilities for African Americans were consistently inferior and underfunded, and were sometimes nonexistent, institutionalizing economic, educational, and social inequality.

Photo credit: Lee, Russell, from the Library of Congress

Segregated Water Cooler: About
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