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IB DP History Study Notes

4.1.3 Economic and Social Discrimination

The intricate nature of discrimination faced by African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement era stemmed from deeply rooted economic and social biases. Delving into these facets will provide a comprehensive understanding of the barriers African Americans faced in their pursuit of equality.

Economic Discrimination

Employment Disparities

  • Systematic Discrimination:
    • Prejudiced Employers: Many employers, due to pre-existing biases, were unwilling to hire African Americans, especially for skilled or managerial positions.
    • Agency Biases: Employment agencies often directed African Americans towards lower-paying and less prestigious jobs, irrespective of their skills or qualifications.
    • Union Barriers: Discrimination within trade unions meant limited access for African Americans to better job opportunities, training programmes, and networking events.
  • Wage Disparities:
    • Inequal Pay: African Americans, when they found employment, typically earned significantly less than their white counterparts for the same roles.
    • Gender Intersectionality: African American women were particularly disadvantaged, grappling with both racial and gender wage disparities.

Housing Disparities

  • Redlining:
    • Lending Biases: Financial institutions, including banks and mortgage lenders, often designated predominantly African American neighbourhoods as "high risk." This red marking made it difficult for residents in these areas to secure loans, suppressing property values and economic growth.
    • Investment Drought: Due to redlining, these neighbourhoods saw a lack of public and private investment, leading to infrastructural decline and stagnation.
  • Restrictive Covenants:
    • Sales Limitations: These contractual clauses prohibited homeowners from selling property to African Americans, curtailing their mobility and reinforcing segregation.
    • Neighbourhood Exclusion: The covenants perpetuated predominantly white neighbourhoods, depriving African Americans of better amenities and opportunities.
  • White Flight:
    • Migration Patterns: As African Americans moved into urban areas in search of opportunities, many white residents relocated to suburbs, depleting urban areas of socio-economic vitality.
    • Economic Shift: This migration meant a significant portion of the economic resources, jobs, and business opportunities shifted away from cities, leading to urban decay.

Social Discrimination


  • Access to Care:
    • Segregated Hospitals: African Americans had limited choices in healthcare facilities. Predominantly black hospitals were underfunded, lacked modern equipment, and often had fewer qualified medical personnel.
    • Preventive Care: Preventive healthcare measures and community health initiatives were scarcely available to African American communities, leading to health disparities.
  • Disparities in Treatment:
    • Bias in Care: Even in hospitals that were not overtly segregated, African Americans faced discrimination, receiving inferior care or facing longer wait times.
    • Research Neglect: Medical research often neglected ailments predominantly affecting African American communities.


  • Funding Imbalances:
    • Resource Scarcity: Schools predominantly for African Americans operated with significantly smaller budgets, leading to overcrowded classrooms, outdated materials, and limited extracurricular opportunities.
    • Teacher Shortages: These schools often struggled to attract and retain quality teachers due to lower salaries and limited resources.
  • Curriculum Biases:
    • Erasure of History: Textbooks and curricula in schools frequently marginalised or completely omitted significant African American historical events, achievements, and figures.
    • Cultural Ignorance: A lack of diverse representation in study materials further reinforced stereotypes and deprived students of a well-rounded education.

Public Services

  • Segregated Facilities:
    • Inferior Amenities: African Americans had access to separate and often substandard facilities ranging from water fountains to libraries.
    • Recreation and Culture: Playgrounds, theatres, and public parks designated for African Americans were fewer, smaller, and poorly maintained.

Legacy of the Jim Crow Laws

  • Defining the Jim Crow Laws: These laws, prevalent from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, implemented racial segregation, primarily in the Southern United States.

Long-Term Effects on African American Communities

  • Societal Stereotypes:
    • Perception: The Jim Crow era reinforced notions of African American inferiority, which persist in some societal segments today.
    • Media Representation: These stereotypes were frequently perpetuated in media, with African Americans portrayed in derogatory or subservient roles.
  • Economic Implications:
    • Wealth Transfer Hurdles: Generational wealth transfer for African Americans was severely hampered due to employment and housing discriminations.
    • Contemporary Disparities: The resulting wealth gap between white and African American families remains significant, with repercussions in education, housing, and overall quality of life.
  • Societal Division:
    • Continued Segregation: While the Jim Crow laws have been abolished, their remnants are evident in the still-prevalent racial divides in housing, education, and socio-economic status.
    • Psychological Impact: The societal and systemic discrimination led to profound psychological effects on African American communities, influencing self-perception, ambition, and community dynamics.
  • Political Ramifications:
    • Voter Suppression: The disenfranchisement of African Americans under Jim Crow has had long-lasting political ramifications. Though the overt barriers have been dismantled, voter suppression efforts, gerrymandering, and other obstacles persist.
    • Representation Challenges: Political representation for African American communities continues to face hurdles at various governmental levels.

In the shadow of these discriminatory practices, African Americans displayed remarkable resilience, forging pathways to success and laying the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement. For students of IB History, grasping this detailed context is vital to understanding the complexities of the era.


Yes, aside from African Americans, several other minority groups faced economic and social discrimination in the US during this period. Notably, Latino communities, particularly Mexican Americans in the Southwest, faced discrimination in education, employment, and housing. Similarly, Asian Americans, especially during and after World War II, faced significant prejudice. Japanese Americans, in particular, were interned during the war. Native Americans continued to grapple with the repercussions of displacement, forced assimilation, and discrimination in public services and employment. While the nature and extent of discrimination varied, many minority groups faced challenges rooted in racial and ethnic prejudices.

While the Jim Crow laws are most commonly associated with the Southern United States, it's important to note that many Northern states also had their own forms of segregation and discrimination, albeit less codified and formalised than their Southern counterparts. The South had a more extensive, legalised system of racial segregation, particularly after the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s. However, Northern states had discriminatory practices, especially in housing and employment. The key difference is that, in the South, segregation was mandated by law, while in the North, it often took on a more de facto nature, driven by societal prejudices rather than explicit legislation.

The lack of diverse representation in school curricula, especially the marginalisation of African American history and achievements, had several repercussions. Firstly, it deprived all students, irrespective of their ethnicity, of a comprehensive understanding of American history, making it seem as though African Americans had a minimal or negative impact. Secondly, it reinforced stereotypes of African Americans as subservient or inferior, shaping perceptions and biases in subsequent generations. For African American students, the absence of relatable figures and events from their curriculum could lower self-esteem and perpetuate feelings of societal marginalisation. By not reflecting the multicultural fabric of the society in education, the curricula indirectly deepened racial divides and misperceptions.

The economic discrimination against African Americans played a significant role in mid-20th-century urban decay. As they moved into urban areas seeking better opportunities, many white residents, driven by racial prejudices, relocated to suburbs in a phenomenon known as "white flight". This migration drained urban areas of a substantial portion of their economic resources, jobs, and business opportunities. Furthermore, the discriminatory practices like redlining deterred financial investments in predominantly African American neighbourhoods. The combined effect was a cycle of declining infrastructure, reduced public services, and increasing unemployment in these urban areas, which contributed heavily to the overall urban decay.

Redlining and restrictive covenants functioned as two interlocking mechanisms of housing discrimination against African Americans. Redlining involved financial institutions marking certain neighbourhoods, predominantly African American ones, as "high risk", making it challenging for residents to secure loans or mortgages. This suppressed property values and deterred both public and private investments, leading to infrastructural decay. On the other hand, restrictive covenants were clauses in property contracts that prohibited homeowners from selling to African Americans. These covenants maintained white-majority neighbourhoods and blocked African Americans from moving to areas with better amenities and opportunities. Together, both practices ensured that African Americans remained in economically stagnating areas, limiting their socio-economic mobility.

Practice Questions

To what extent did economic discrimination play a pivotal role in reinforcing social discrimination against African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement era?

Economic discrimination against African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement era was intrinsically intertwined with social discrimination. The deliberate economic marginalisation, manifesting in employment and housing disparities, fostered an environment that made African Americans financially vulnerable. This vulnerability subsequently reinforced societal stereotypes, as it was easier to perpetuate notions of African American inferiority when they were economically disadvantaged. Such stereotypes then affected aspects like education, public services, and healthcare. In essence, economic discrimination provided a tangible framework that buttressed and perpetuated the more intangible social prejudices.

Evaluate the lasting implications of the Jim Crow laws on African American communities, especially in the realms of politics and economics.

The Jim Crow laws, while abolished, left a profound and lingering impact on African American communities, particularly in political and economic spheres. Politically, the disenfranchisement efforts of the Jim Crow era created hurdles for African American political participation and representation. Even after the removal of overt legal barriers, practices like gerrymandering and voter suppression remained, impacting the community's political voice. Economically, the Jim Crow era hampered generational wealth transfer due to housing and employment discrimination, creating a substantial wealth gap between white and African American families. This economic disparity continues to manifest in areas like education, housing, and overall quality of life, showing the lasting shadow of the Jim Crow laws.

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Written by: Maddie
Oxford University - BA History

Maddie, an Oxford history graduate, is experienced in creating dynamic educational resources, blending her historical knowledge with her tutoring experience to inspire and educate students.

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