Black Codes


Also found in: Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

Black Codes

A body of laws, statutes, and rules enacted by southern states immediately after the Civil War to regain control over the freed slaves, maintain white supremacy, and ensure the continued supply of cheap labor.

The Union's victory over the South in the Civil War signaled the end for the institution of Slavery in the United States. Ratified in 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution formalized this result in U.S. law, abolishing slavery throughout the country and every territory subject to its jurisdiction.

For the next several months, southern states sought a way to restore for the white majority what the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment had tried to deny them, supremacy, control, and economic power over the fate of African Americans. Under slavery, whites had disciplined the blacks largely outside the law, through extralegal whippings administered by slave owners and their overseers. After the slaves were emancipated, panicky whites feared that blacks would seek revenge against them for their harsh and inhumane treatment on the southern plantations. Former slave owners feared for themselves, their families, and their property.

While some white southerners thought that African-Americans were best controlled through Vigilantism, Mississippi whites began passing laws to take away the former slaves' new found freedom. The first such law was enacted on November 22, 1865. It directed civil officers to hire orphaned African Americans and forbade the orphans to leave their place of employment for any reason. Orphans were typically compensated with a free place to live, free meals, and some type of nominal wage. Other white employers were prohibited from offering any enticement to blacks "employed" by someone else.

The Mississippi legislature next passed a Vagrancy law, defining vagrants as workers who "neglected their calling or employment or misspent what they earned." Another Mississippi law required African Americans to carry with them written evidence of their present employment at all times, a practice that was hauntingly reminiscent of the old pass system under slavery. The final piece to the puzzle came when Mississippi established a system of special county courts to punish blacks charged with violating one of the new state employment laws. The law imposed draconian punishments, including "corporal chastisement" for blacks who refused to work or otherwise tried to frustrate the system. African Americans who committed real crimes, such as stealing, could be hung by their thumbs.

Widely considered to be the first set of Black Codes passed in the south after the Civil War, these Mississippi laws represented a concerted effort by white lawmakers to restore the master-slave relationship under a new name. Within a few months after Mississippi passed its first such law, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina followed suit by enacting similar laws of their own.

Congress quickly responded to the Black Codes by passing the civil rights act of 1866, which made it illegal to discriminate against blacks by assigning them an inferior legal and economic status. Two years later the states ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed "equal protection of the laws" to the residents of every state.

But the southern states were not deterred. They soon passed a new set of laws that permitted local officials to informally discriminate against blacks, without specific statutory authority. The thrust-and-parry exchanges between Congress and the southern states continued throughout the period Reconstruction (1865-77) and through the first half of the twentieth century.

Further readings

Kramer, William. 1984. "How 'Black Codes' Virtually Nullified the Emancipation Proclamation." The Los Angeles Daily Journal 97.

Pulliam, Ted. 2001. "The Dark Days of Black Codes." Legal Times 24.

Cross-references

Civil Rights Acts; Civil Rights Cases; Civil Rights Movement; Corporal Punishment; Fourteenth Amendment; Jim Crow Laws; Reconstruction; Segregation; Thirteenth Amendment.

References in periodicals archive ?
Can we come to accept as true the belief that America has put the racist mentality of Jim Crow laws and Black Codes behind and there are no traces of that ideological mantra in the minds of American public?
The first section of the amendment was an effort to place into the Constitution the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, designed to combat the notorious Black Codes that had been enacted in several southern states.
They "repealed the Black Codes [version of earlier slave codes that had regulated that institution] and adopted legislation barring some of the onerous provisions of the labor contracts that had been imposed on Black agricultural laborers" (Barnes, 2009, p.
However, draconian slave laws, and restrictive Black codes with regards to marriage and miscegenation, made life unstable.
When a lot of Democratic-controlled segregationist governments, after the Civil War, attempted to deny black men and women their freedom, they instituted black codes largely to deny the Second Amendment from newly freed slaves.
slavery was governed by extensive bodies of law known as slave or black codes.
From Black codes to recodification; removing the veil from regulatory writing.
From Black Codes to Recodification: Removing the Veil from Regulatory Writing" analyzes the wording of in today's laws, and the importance of modern writing in these laws when dealing with older texts and their impact on racial issues.
As editor of the Sumter News, the younger man promoted industrialization, supported black codes, and opposed carpetbaggers, the Union League, and Radical Republicans.
There were Black Codes, not always enforced, restricting the movement of black residents.
New York authorities authored a series of black codes that extended citizenship to nearly all whites while denying such to free blacks.
The spot then makes claims that Democrats "passed black codes and Jim Crow laws, started the Ku Klux Klan, fought all civil rights legislation from the 1860s to the 1960s, and released those vicious dogs and fire hoses on blacks.