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Racial segregation facts for kids

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" Apartheid": sign on Durban beach in English, Afrikaans and Zulu languages

Racial segregation means separating people because of their races. Segregation was legal and normal in many countries across the world, for many years. For example, until 1964, it was still legal to separate white and African-American people in some states. In South Africa, from the 1940s until the 1990s, a system called apartheid kept white and black South Africans separate. Racial segregation has happened in many other countries, throughout history.

Segregation is not as simple as having "separate but equal" places for people of different races. Segregation happens when a country or a society views one race as better than another. The goal of segregation is to keep the "inferior" race away from the "better" race. Because one race is seen as "inferior," people of that race are not treated well. They go through discrimination. Often they are not given basic rights, like the right to vote. As a United States Supreme Court judge said in a case about segregation in schools: "separate facilities are [always] unequal."

Anglo-Saxon England

Segregation may have existed in early Anglo-Saxon England. When the Anglo-Saxons arrived in England in the 4th century, they may have created an "apartheid-like society," according to some historians. They may have treated the native British people like slaves, and had rules against marrying them. Some historians say Anglo-Saxons were much richer and had a higher social status than Celtic Britons.


From the early 1800s to the late 1980s, the Australian government took many Aboriginal children away from their families. Their families had not agreed to let their children go. However, the government had decided to force Aboriginal children to "assimilate" into Australian society. The children were placed in white homes or on missions. There, they were forced to learn Christianity, leave behind their Aboriginal culture, become a part of white society, and marry white people. The goal of this program was to "breed out" Aboriginal traits so that they no longer existed in Australia. Later, in 1951, the United Nations would define this type of program as genocide.

From about 1900 to the 1970s, Australia followed what became known as the "White Australia Policy." This policy kept non-white people from immigrating to Australia by making immigration tests too hard to pass.

In the early- to mid-twentieth century, many Aborigines were forced to live on missions. The goal of this policy was to get the Aborigines off their lands, because white settlers wanted to use them.

In the 1960s, Australia changed its official policy to "integration." This meant that the Aborigines had to be able to live in Australian society or on missions. However, many Aborigines refused to follow these orders and kept living far away from cities. In these areas, they were segregated from the rest of Australian society, and were also poorer. At the time, some people called the situation "apartheid," and even suggested that the Australian government's policies inspired the apartheid program in South Africa.

English settlers in Ireland

In 1366, the King of England passed thirty-five laws called the Statutes of Kilkenny. Their goal was to prevent English settlers in Ireland from mixing with the Irish people or becoming too much like the Irish. The laws made it illegal the English to marry native Irish people, have Irish children, adopt Irish children, use Irish names or clothes, or speak anything but English.

French Algeria

In 1830, France took control of Algeria from the Ottoman Empire. For over a hundred years, Algeria was a French colony. The French rulers kept an apartheid-like system in Algeria. For example, Arab and Berber Algerians were allowed to apply for French citizenship (which would give them the right to vote and other rights) only if they abandoned their Muslim religion and culture.

Algerian Muslims were not willing to go along with this "system of apartheid," and this system was one of the main causes of the Algerian War in 1954.


The Wall of ghetto in Warsaw - Building on Nazi-German order August 1940
Nazis build a wall to make sure Jews cannot escape from this ghetto in Warsaw
Young Girl Polish Forced Labourer Wearing Letter "P" Patch
A young Polish forced laborer wearing a letter "P" patch

In fifteenth-century north-east Germany, "Wendish" (Slavic) people were not allowed to join some guilds. According to Wilhelm Raabe, "into the eighteenth century no German guild accepted a Wend."

Nur fur deutsche
Nur für Deutsche ("Only for Germans") on a train in Nazi-occupied Poland

In 1935, after the Nazi Party had taken control of the German government, they passed the Nuremberg Laws. The Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, believed that the "Aryan" race was better than any other races.

In 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland and took it over. They divided the Polish people into different ethnic groups. Based on how "Germanic" they were, each group had different rights. For example, the different groups were allowed different amounts of food; and were only allowed to live in certain places and use certain public transportation.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis made Jews wear yellow ribbons or stars of David with the word "Jude" ("Jew") on them. Racial laws discriminated against Jews and Roma people (Gypsies). For example, Jewish doctors were not allowed to treat Aryan patients; Jewish professors were not allowed to teach Aryan students. Jews were not allowed to use any public transportation, besides the ferry; ride bicycles; or ride in cars. They were allowed to shop only from 3:00pm to 5:00pm, and only in stores owned by Jews. They could not go to theaters, swimming pools, or any other places for entertainment.

During the Holocaust, the Nazis tried to kill all of the Jews and Roma in Europe. They also killed millions of Slavic people (including Ukrainian, Soviet, and Polish people), because they saw Slavs as an inferior race. First the Nazis forced Jews and Roma to live in ghettoes, apart from everyone else. Then they sent millions of Jews, Roma, and Slavs to concentration camps and death camps.{{efn|During the Holocaust, the Nazis also murdered many other people for reasons like political beliefs, religion, disability, and homosexuality. However, these groups are not discussed in this article, since this article is about segregation based on race.

Also, between 1939 and 1945, at least 1.5 million Polish people were deported to Nazi Germany for forced labour. Nazi Germany also used forced laborers from Western Europe. However, Polish people and other Eastern Europeans who the Nazis viewed as racially inferior were treated much worse. They were forced to wear a cloth tag on their clothing with the letter "P" on it, which showed that they were Polish. They had to follow a curfew and could not use public transportation. Usually, they had to work longer hours, for lower pay, than Western Europeans. In many cities, they had to live in segregated barracks, behind barbed wire. They were not allowed to talk to Germans outside of work.

Imperial China

Tang dynasty

During the Tang Dynasty, the Han Chinese passed several laws that segregated non-Chinese people from Chinese people. In 779, the Tang Dynasty made a rule which forced Uighurs to wear their traditional ethnic clothing, not Chinese clothing. It also banned them from 'pretending' to be Chinese, and from marrying Chinese women. The Han Chinese disliked the Uighurs because they loaned money for interest.

In 836, when Lu Chun was appointed governor of Canton, he was disgusted to find Chinese living with foreigners and marrying them. Lu made segregation the law. He made it illegal for non-Chinese people to marry Chinese people or to own property. The law specifically banned Chinese from forming relationships with "Dark peoples" or "People of color." This meant foreigners like "Iranians, Sogdians, Arabs, Indians, Malays, Sumatrans", and others.


In 1938, Italy was ruled by a fascist regime led by Benito Mussolini. The regime was allied with Nazi Germany. Under pressure from the Nazis, the regime passed several laws that said the Italian Empire would now practice segregation. They called these laws the 'provvedimenti per la difesa della razza' (norms for the defence of the race).

The laws especially targeted Jews. For example, Jews could not:


Because of these laws, Italy lost some of its best scientists. Some were fired. For example, Rita Levi-Montalcini, who would later win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, was told she could no longer work at her university. Others left Italy because of the laws. For example, Enrico Fermi, who worked on the first nuclear reactor and won the Nobel Prize for Physics, left the country. (His wife was Jewish.) Many other well-known scientists, physicists, mathematicians, and other scholars lost their jobs or left Italy because of the race laws.

Albert Einstein resigned from his honorary membership at the Accademia dei Lincei, an Italian science academy, to protest the race laws.

After 1943, when Northern Italy was occupied by the Nazis, Italian Jews were taken to Nazi concentration camps and death camps.

Jewish segregation

Old Jewish quarters in Essaouira
Remains of the Jewish mellah in Essaouira.

For centuries, Jews in Europe were often forced to live in segregated ghettos and shtetls (small towns where mostly Jews lived). In 1204, the Pope ordered Jews to segregate themselves from Christians and to wear clothing that marked them as Jews. Forced segregation of Jews spread throughout Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries.

In the Russian Empire, starting in the 1790s, Jews were only allowed to live in the Pale of Settlement. This was the Western frontier of the Russian Empire, about where Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine are today. By the early 20th century, most European Jews lived in the Pale of Settlement.

In Morocco, beginning in the 15th century, Jewish people were segregated in mellahs. In cities, a mellah was a separate area for Jews, surrounded by a wall with a fortified gateway. Rural mellahs were separate villages where only Jews lived.

Latin America

When Spanish people came to the Americas and made Latin American countries into colonies, they created a caste system based on race. They came up with fifteen different categories of people based on their race mixtures, including categories like "mulatto" and "mestizo". People who were "whiter" or more "Spanish" had a higher social status than people who were "darker" or more Native American. People who were "darker" were treated as inferior and faced discrimination – for example, they had to pay higher taxes than "whiter" people.

Usually, when they won their independence from Spain, most Latin American countries made laws against caste systems. However, prejudice based on race remains.

South Africa

Sign at a beach saying 'blacks and dogs are not allowed'


Racial segregation in South Africa began when the country was a Dutch colony. The Dutch landed at Cape Town in 1652 and gradually took over more and more of the country. Segregation continued when the British Empire took over the Cape of Good Hope in 1795.

Slavery existed in South Africa until 1833. However, two years later, the government passed a law that changed slaves into indentured servants. This system was not very different from slavery. Throughout the rest of the 1800s, the South African colonies passed laws that limited these worker's rights and freedoms.

In 1894 and 1905, the government passed laws saying that "Indians" and 'blacks" had no right to vote. Other laws discriminated against non-whites, but were not as bad as the apartheid laws that would come within the next 50 years.

Beginnings of apartheid

Apartheid in South Africa started in 1948. At that time, the National Party won control of the South African government. This political party was made up of Afrikaner people. Afrikaners are the descendants of Dutch settlers who came to South Africa in the 1600s and 1700s. The National Party believed in Afrikaner nationalism. Soon, they started a program of apartheid (which means "apart-hood" – 'being apart' or 'being separate' – in the Afrikaans language).

The goal of apartheid was to keep non-white people apart from whites economically, politically, and socially. This meant the National Party did not want non-whites to have the same social status as them; to vote or have any part in the government; to live or work near whites; or even to go to schools, beaches, parks, or other places that whites used.

Apartheid laws

Population registration certificate South Africa 1988
Example of racial identification required by the Population Registration Act

The National Party passed apartheid laws to make racial segregation the law in South Africa. Some of the most important laws included:

  • The Population Registration Act (1950), which put South Africans into four racial categories: "black," "white," "Colored" (mixed-race), and "Indian" (South Asians from the former British India).
    • People had to register with the government and get identification cards that said what racial group they were in.
  • The Group Areas Act (1950), which assigned a part of South Africa for each racial group to live in. People were forced to live in their assigned part of the country.
    • Going into another part of the country was illegal without a permit. Black people could not enter cities unless they had permission from a white employer.
  • The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953), which created separate public places, like hospitals, universities, and parks, for the different races
  • The Bantu Education Act (1953), which segregated education

Under these apartheid laws, between 1960 to 1983, 3.5 million non-white South Africans were forced to leave their homes and move into segregated neighborhoods. This is one of the largest mass removals in modern history.

Other laws made it illegal for a person to marry a person from a different race. Then, in 1969, the government took away "Coloured" people's right to vote. Since "Indians" and "blacks" had not been allowed to vote for decades, this meant that whites were the only people in South Africa who were allowed to vote.

In 1970, non-whites were banned from having representatives in the government. That same year, black people's South African citizenship was taken away.


Protests against apartheid started right after apartheid did. As early as 1949, the youth wing of the African National Congress (ANC) suggested fighting against racial segregation using many different strategies. Over the next 45 years, hundreds of anti-apartheid actions occurred. They included protests by the Black Consciousness Movement; student protests; labor strikes; and church group activism. In 1991, the Abolition of Racially Based Land Measures Act was passed, reversing laws about racial segregation, including the Group Areas Act. In 1990, President Frederik Willem de Klerk started trying to end apartheid. Nonwhites were given the right to vote in 1993. South Africa had its first multiracial elections (where non-whites were allowed to be candidates in 1994. Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress won.

United States

The United States has a long history of racial segregation, starting when the first European settlers came to North America. First through slavery, then through racist laws, and then through racist attitudes, African-American people in the United States have faced segregation for centuries. People of other races have been segregated too. For example, during World War II, the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, ordered almost the entire Japanese-American population to be segregated in internment camps.

People of all races have fought against segregation and discrimination in the United States. Thanks to movements like the African-American Civil Rights Movement, segregation is now against the law in the United States. However, prejudice against minority groups still exists. This has led to new types of segregation caused by people's prejudices and behavior.

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