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The Jim Crow

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Jim Crow, 2008
Jim Crow, 2008
© Thomas Nugent
Jim Crow, 2006
Jim Crow, 2006
© John Ferguson

The Jim Crow, which at some time has come to have its original name shortened simply to 'Jim Crow', is a rock or boulder which lies to the north of Dunoon, on the foreshore between Hunter's Quay and Kirn.

Local history suggests that the rock was deposited there more than 20,000 years ago, courtesy of a retreating glacier.

The Jim Crow, c. 1900
The Jim Crow, c. 1900
Courtesy of Dunoonpeeps.com

The date of the first painting of the rock, and the exact reason are unknown, however the painted rock was recorded in the photograph shown to the right, which is understood to have been used in an early postcard from the time, and we have been told of one example which caries a postmark for August 17, 1904.

In this older photograph, the rock can clearly be seen to be much more sharply defined than it appears in the later photographs, taken almost 100 years later. The smoother and more rounded surface which can be seen by 2008 suggests this is in fact a block of sandstone or similar material, dumped on the foreshore during the Victorian area when many mansions were being built in the area, and which has since been weathered and eroded. Many mansions were built along the shores of the Clyde at that time, as homes for wealthy Glasgow merchants, using stone from local quarries.

In the past, the local paper ran a light-hearted article which featured a number of potential origins behind the original painting of the rock.[1]

Jim Crow, 2009
Jim Crow, 2009
© Richard Webb

A local historian considered the name to refer to a local builders' yard which used to lie opposite the stone, and was owned by Jim Crow.

There seems to be a spurious account claiming the name refers to a shark.

The profile and appearance of the rock is similar to that of a jackdaw, and the name may take after the poem "Jim Crow, the Jackdaw of Rheims".

The name Jim Crow is often used to describe the segregation laws and rules which arose after Reconstruction ended after 1876 and continued until the mid-1960s.[2].

Jim Crow,2011
Jim crow, 2011
© John Firth



At some time during the night between Sunday June 21 and Monday June 22, the feature was vandalised when it was painted over. Although there appears to have been no claims as to responsibility for the act, the local paper carried a story in which suggested a potential racist motivation for the attack on the landmark.[3]

Referring again to the c. 1900 image, although not in colour, this still clearly shows the original decoration did not include the styling which can be seen in the later images, and the original decoration merely outlined the eye and beak, and added the lettering.

Jim Crow, cartoon
Jim Crow cartoon

The modern painting of the rock has apparently, and perhaps unfortunately, been inspired by the exaggerated and highly stereotypical Black character, Jim Crow.

Jim Crow was the stage persona of Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice, described as a struggling actor who performed short solo skits between play scenes at the Park Theatre, New York. Rice would blacken his face, outline his lips in red, and perform the following song:


A year after the first vandalism of this feature, the act was repeated over the weekend of July 10/11, 2010, and photographed for the local newspaper on the Sunday morning.[4] In this case, it seems that the vandals may have been disturbed, and skulked away before they could finish their self-appointed mission. The grey paint was only applied to the sides of the rock, leaving the top untouched.


On the night of Thursday, July 14, 2011, and almost a year to the day since the last vandalism, the features of The Jim Crow were painted out once again.

Strathclyde Police confirmed that they were in a receipt of a complaint about the matter.

After last year's attack, the local newspaper, The Dunoon Observer, ran a poll asking whether or not the feature should be retained, to which an overwhelming majority of readers were reported to have responded to with approval for the feature to remain.

At the same time, a number of blogs were reported to have accused the rock of carrying racist symbolism, with one blog in particular, run by Lloyd Hobbard-Mitchell, a town councillor in Haversham, Kent, encouraging people to vote to lose Jim Crow in the Dunoon Observer's online poll. Clearly, this ignorant Englishman who has no knowledge of the painting of the rock, and nothing to do with Dunoon's affairs, did not prove popular.

As with previous attacks on the local icon, it was reported that a tin of Drummond's International Grey paint was left perched on the rock. This paint is sold for £25 per tin, and carries the following publicity slogan: Drummond's International Grey can be used in the public arena to paint grey any object or institution that you find morally or aesthetically offensive, with each tin being individually numbered. This paint is the responsibility of Bill Drummond, former member of pop group KLF which became notable for allegedly burning £1 million in cash on Jura. Drummond has since become an artist, and Drummond's International Grey is one of his projects. The story concluded with a comment from the local council that this 'joke' was now being taken too far. [5]

Jim Crow in American culture

Come listen all you galls and boys,
I'm going to sing a little song,
My name is Jim Crow.
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb'ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow.

He is said to have obtained the words from a Black person he heard singing the song, some accounts say this was an old Black slave who walked with difficulty, others that it was a ragged Black stable boy. Whatever the source, Rice appeared on stage in 1828, as Jim Crow.

By 1838, the term Jim Crow was being used as a collective racial epithet for Blacks.

By the end of the 19th century, the term was being used to describe laws and customs which oppressed Blacks. The Jim Crow laws were state and local laws in the United States, enacted between 1876 and 1965, and which mandated de jure segregation in all public facilities, with a supposedly "separate but equal" status for black Americans.

The photographs above show that the original painting of the stone, and that local accounts of the origin of the name mean that there is little likelihood that it ever had any connection with the American racist theme.

However, it would seem fair to observe that mistakes have been made as the rock has been repainted over the years. The word 'The' has been lost from the title painted on the rock, and it may be that someone seeking to be more accurate in the rendering of the artwork has referred to images of Jim Crow from American cultural history, as per the cartoon representation shown above, rather than old photographs of the original feature as created of the shore of Dunoon, which show a much cruder rendering of the 'Crow', more like the bird than the character.


Before the attack, Jan 2008
Before the attack, January 2008
© Zak
After the attack (and repaint), Sep 2009
After the repaint, September 2009
© Zak


1 Something to crow about. Dunoon Observer. October 13, 2001

2 Who was Jim Crow?

3 "Racist" Jim Crow Painted Over. Dunoon Observer. June 26, 2009

4 Jim Crow Greyed Out - Again Retrieved July 14, 2010.

5 JIM CROW VANDALISED – AGAIN Retrieved July 17, 2011.

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