A self-segregation of the South’s black population was present prior to 1865 whereby skin-pigmentation and being free or slave dictated one’s social status. That this social caste system survived well after 1865 is underscored by segregated housing, such as “Crescent Heights, [a] High Class Colored Development” of August 1941 located between Queen and Dawson Streets in Wilmington, North Carolina. White and lower class black people were not allowed.
Its restrictive covenants require buildings to be single family homes “and a private garage of not more than two cars and servant quarters.” It was specifically noted that “No persons of any race, other than the Negro race shall own, use or occupy any building or any lot, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with an owner or tenant.”
The Color Caste System
“The Southern Negro’s strong sense of social distinctions (which he may have absorbed from the white master class) extended into social relations among the slaves and free Negroes.
Horace Fitchett in a Ph.D dissertation entitled “The Free Negro in Charleston, S.C.,” has observed that the mulatto segment of the free Negro population of Charleston emphasized the difference between themselves and darker slaves or free Negroes. They formed an exclusive social and fraternal organization called the Brown Fellowship Society; qualifications for membership were that one be free, light-skinned, economically independent, and “devoted to the basic tenets of the social system.”
The excluded Negroes of dark color formed a rival society named the “Society of Free Dark Men,” headed by Thomas Small, a carpenter who owned eleven slaves.
William Tiler Johnson, a mulatto barber of Natchez, Mississippi, seems also to have been strongly influenced by the color caste system, for he never attended “darkey parties, dances,” or other social occasion, and apparently did not mingle socially with the slaves.”
(The Mind of the Old South, Clement Eaton, 1964, LSU Press, excerpt pg. 172)