Did You Know the Black Codes Were Meant to Control the New Freedom of African Americans?

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After the Civil War, there was a lot of question from the former southern slave states on what was going to happen with the freedmen.  The freedmen wondered what the future held while the former slave owners had other questions.

In late 1865, the end of the Civil War and the 13th amendment gave about 4 million slaves freedom.  However, even with their new found freedom, African Americans still had obstacles to face, one being black codes.[1]

The black codes were laws, passed in 1865 and 1866, in Southern states which were meant to control the new freedom of African Americans.  These laws varied from state to state and in some cases, these codes were variations of former slave laws.  Some of these laws were that freedmen were not taught to read and write, they were assumed to be agricultural workers, public facilities were segregated.[2]

Mississippi and South Carolina were the first two states to legalize black codes, both developing laws regulating or forcing employment.  Mississippi made a law stating all African Americans had to have proof of employment each January.  South Carolina stated that African Americans could not hold any other occupation other than servant or farmer, unless they paid an annual tax of $10 to $100.

Other common black code laws were race was defined by blood and the presence of any amount of black blood made the individual black and freedmen could not assemble without the presence of a white person.[3]

In some states, African Americans could only own certain property, and they were very limited to the types of property they could own.  If an African American violated any of these black codes they were subjected to arrest, being beaten, or forced into labor. There were even black codes which would force orphans or children whose parents could not support them (which was the judge’s decision) into an apprenticeship law, which made these minors work for white planters and given no pay.[4]

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However, with all the limitations with black codes, these codes also did allow African American to marry and own property.[5]

Overall, the rate of tightly followed the black codes were varied from area to area, however, if it became known that the black codes were not being followed, the appropriate person for this would be notified and the laws would become strictly enforced.[6]

The black codes did not sit well with many northern states or Republicans in Congress. In response to the black codes, Republicans in Congress took over reconstruction with the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which made southern states ratify the 14th amendment, which guaranteed equal protection of laws to every resident in a state,  and eventually, created the 15th amendment.[7]



[1] History.com Staff. “Black Codes.” History.com. 2010. Accessed November 14, 2017. 


[2]United States History.” The Black Codes. Accessed November 14, 2017. 


[3]Black Code and Jim Crow Law examples – Black Codes and Jim Crow.” Google Sites. Accessed November 14, 2017. 


[4] History.com Staff. “Black Codes.” History.com. 2010. Accessed November 14, 2017. 


[5] http://www.pbs.org/tpt/slavery-by-another-name/themes/black-codes/


[6] The Black Codes. Accessed November 14, 2017. 


[7] History.com Staff. “Black Codes.” History.com. 2010. Accessed November 14, 2017. 

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