Jim Crow and Legalized Segregation

The Jim Crow Era in Florence

For nearly a century after emancipation and a brief period of Reconstruction, African Americans in the South were subject to legalized segregation through local and state adoption of Jim Crow laws. These laws made up a racial caste system, designed to suppress and limit the rights of African Americans.


In many ways, Florence was no different than any other town in the American South. In addition to being denied admission at institutions of higher learning, such as the then Florence State Teachers' College, they were routinely expected to yield the sidewalk to white people, to live and stay in certain parts of town, to enter an establishment through the back door only or not at all if a business did not have one, and they were often relegated to jobs that were inherently low-paying and low-level.

State Normal School

By 1871, despite the University's efforts to recover following the Civil War, Florence Wesleyan University closed. In 1872, the Methodist Episcopal Church offered the building and surrounding twelve acres to the state of Alabama, who, acknowledging the need for qualified teachers in the post-war South, decided to use the Florence Wesleyan campus as the state normal school.


As such, it became the first coeducational teacher training institution south of the Ohio River and one of only few in the nation. In addition to a coeducational student body, the first woman joined the faculty in 1879.


The student population and faculty, however, was all white. African-American men and women were denied admission for at least another 90 years.

News article mentions segregated school for African American students run by former bootblack George Poole

African Americans on Campus During Jim Crow

During the period between emancipation and integration, African Americans were employed on campus in various low-level, low-paying jobs, such as janitors and bootblacks.

1925 advertisement mentions State Normal School on the KKK parade route
Deep River Singers provide entertainment on campus in 1950

Urban Renewal in Florence: African Americans Displaced for a School They Cannot Attend

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