This is in no way an insult to grandfathers or paternal elders, but until this week, I had absolutely no idea that the term "grandfather clause" had its origins in Jim Crow laws that in part were created to keep Black Americans from voting.

While ruling on a zoning dispute, the Massachusetts Appeals Court disclosed they will no longer use the legal terms "grandfathering" or "grandfathered" in their decisions because of the expression's racist history.

A grandfather clause is an exemption that allows you to continue with activities that were approved before the implementation of new laws. Apparently, the original grandfather clauses, passed by white-dominated legislatures in Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Oklahoma, allowed any person who had been granted the right to vote before 1867 to continue voting without needing to take literacy tests, own property or pay poll taxes.

These laws not only blocked Black Americans from voting – while exempting white voters – but also forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their Black and white clientele separated.

The grandfather clause statute was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1915 because it violated equal voting rights, but from the 1880s into the 1960s, the preponderance of states enforced segregation through Jim Crow laws. The laws were named after a blackface character in minstrel shows.

Unquestionably, Jim Crow was much more than just a character or set of laws. To my way of thinking, Jim Crow was a scheme that kept alive a racist culture. I'm glad they pulled the plug on gramps.

Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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