Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2015


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Counselor Education and Supervision (ExCES)


School of Education

Committee Chair

Lisa Lopez Levers

Committee Member

Darius Prier

Committee Member

George Yancy


Transgenerational Trauma, Coping, Resilience, Jim Crow, Segregation


Researchers have become increasingly interested in the impact of racism on African Americans; however, because interactions involving racism are highly subjective, it can be difficult to assert the presence of trauma in a social science context. Thus, whereas literature regarding the effects of racism is abundant, few studies have explored the effects of being exposed to the laws of the "Jim Crow" era. This study sought to illuminate the lived experiences of African Americans who were exposed to the racial caste system known as Jim Crow. This inquiry looked at transgenerational trauma, exploring exposure to decades of legal discrimination, while also illuminating experiences of resilience and posttraumatic growth. These lived experiences were examined within the theoretical frameworks of Bronfenbrenner's bioecological model, existentialism, and critical race theory.

This qualitative, phenomenological investigation was conducted through two focus groups comprising nine African Americans, ages 64 to 86. The participants were recruited from various communities in Western Pennsylvania, and all of them reported some exposure to the Jim Crow era. Data were collected via videotaping of the group interviews, which later were transcribed, and by means of a reflexive journal. The findings of this study identify themes that address risk factors present and protective factors used during the Jim Crow era, the sense of helplessness and despair evoked by Jim Crow, and the desire to teach younger generations of African Americans about Jim Crow. Notably, resiliency was identified as the chief factor enabling the participants to survive their encounters with Jim Crow and even to thrive throughout their lives. This study lays the foundation for future research regarding the effects of Jim Crow, and the results may be especially useful to counselors who work with the African American population.