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What are the Black Codes? #BeadsOnaString

These are the kind of rules that were made to keep the fear high in the African-American

"What replaced the Black Codes, Leon F. Litwack wrote, was not racial integration but an informal code of exclusion and discrimination. The laws that came to be known collectively as the Black Codes ended officially in 2000."

Black Codes

Excerpt from Beads on a String 


The Black Codes were laws passed on the state and local level in the United States to restrict the civil rights and civil liberties of Black People, particularly former slaves in former Confederate states. The Black Codes granted African Americans certain rights, such as legalized marriage, ownership of property, and limited access to the courts. But the Black Codes denied them the rights to testify against whites, to serve on juries or in state militias, or to vote, and express legal concern publicly. And, in response to planters’ demands that the freed people be required to work on the plantations, the Black Codes declared that those who failed to sign yearly labor contracts could be arrested and hired out to white landowners. Some states limited the occupations open to African Americans and barred them from acquiring land, and others provided that judges could assign African American children to work for their former owners without the consent of their parent


As one historian has noted, racial segregation was hardly a new phenomenon. Before the Civil War, when slavery had fixed the status of most blacks, no need was felt for statutory measures segregating the races.
The restrictive Black Codes, along with the few segregation laws passed by the first postwar governments, did not survive Reconstruction, Litwack wrote[p. 229] in Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow, the sequel to his Pulitzer Prize-winning history ‘Been in the Storm So Long’ The Aftermath of Slavery. What replaced the Black Codes, Leon F. Litwack wrote, was not racial integration but an informal code of exclusion and discrimination. The laws that came to be known collectively as the Black Codes ended officially in 2000.


Although the Black Codes are most commonly associated with the Southern states after the American Civil War until the beginning of Reconstruction, where they were used to regulate the freedoms of former slaves, Black Codes developed over the span of half a century or more and some laws date to the early 19th century in Northern states.

Expansion: 1830-1860

As the abolitionist movement gained steam and escape programs for slaves such as the Underground Railroad expanded, so did the backlash of negrophobia among whites in the North. Indiana passed an anti-miscegenation statute in 1845. In several states the Black Codes were either incorporated into or required by their state constitutions, many of which were rewritten in the 1840s. Article 13 of Indiana's 1851 Constitution stated No Negro or Mulatto shall come into, or settle in, the State, after the adoption of this Constitution. The 1848 Constitution of Illinois led to one of the harshest Black Code systems in the nation until the Civil War. The Illinois Black Code of 1853 extended a complete prohibition against black immigration into the state.

Post-Civil War

After the abolition of slavery by the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, all former slave states adopted new Black Codes. During 1865, the first year of Reconstruction, every southern state passed new Black Codes that restricted the Freedmen, who were free but not yet citizens. They gave freedmen only a limited set of second-class civil rights and no voting rights, while pursuing a goal of re-admission to the Union. Southern plantation owners feared that they would lose their land or, if not, that blacks would not do their field work; many Southern whites feared that blacks would consider themselves their equals. Mississippi and South Carolina black codes have been described thus:

Negroes must make annual contracts for their labor in writing; if they should run away from their tasks, they forfeited their wages for the year. Whenever it was required of them they must present licenses (in a town from the mayor; elsewhere from a member of the board of police of the beat) citing their places of residence and authorizing them to work. Fugitives from labor were to be arrested and carried back to their employers. Five dollars a head and mileage would be allowed such Negro catchers. It was made a misdemeanor, punishable with fine or imprisonment, to persuade a freedman to leave his employer, or to feed the runaway. Minors were to be apprenticed, if males until they were twenty-one, if females until eighteen years of age. Such corporal punishment as a father would administer to a child might be inflicted upon apprentices by their masters. Vagrants were to be fined heavily, and if they could not pay the sum, they were to be hired out to service until the claim was satisfied. Negroes might not carry knives or firearms unless they were licensed so to do. It was an offence, to be punished by a fine of $50 and imprisonment for thirty days, to give or sell intoxicating liquors to a Negro. When Negroes could not pay the fines and costs after legal proceedings, they were to be hired at public outcry by the sheriff to the lowest bidder.

In South Carolina persons of color contracting for service were to be known as servants, and those with whom they contracted, as masters. On farms the hours of labor would be from sunrise to sunset daily, except on Sunday. The Negroes were to get out of bed at dawn. Time lost would be deducted from their wages, as would be the cost of food, nursing, etc., during absence from sickness. Absentees on Sunday must return to the plantation by sunset. House servants were to be at call at all hours of the day and night on all days of the week. They must be especially civil and polite to their masters, their masters' families and guests, and they in return would receive gentle and kind treatment. Corporal and other punishment was to be administered only upon order of the district judge or other civil magistrate. A vagrant law of some severity was enacted to keep the Negroes from roaming the roads and living the lives of beggars and thieves.
The Black Codes outraged public opinion in the North because it seemed the South was creating a form of quasi-slavery to evade the results of the war. Congress also passed the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, but Johnson blocked it. After winning large majorities in the 1866 elections, the Republicans put the South under military rule and held new elections in which the Freedmen could vote. The new governments repealed all the Black Codes, and they were never reenacted. The Fifteenth Amendment was ratified and went into effect.


Distinction from Jim Crow laws

The Black Codes of the 1860s are not the same as the Jim Crow laws. The Black Codes were resultant of the abolition of slavery and the South's defeat in the Civil War. They were enacted in the 1860s, whereas the Jim Crow era began later, nearer to the end of the 19th century.



     An Act to amend an Act entitled an Act to establish a Code of Criminal Procedure for the State of Texas, approved August 26th, 1866, and to repeal certain portions thereof.
 SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Texas; That Article 143 of the above named Code; be so amended as to hereafter read as follows:
. . . 3rd. Persons of color shall not testify, except where the prosecution is against a person who is a person of color; or where the offence is charged to have been committed against the person or property of a person of color.
SEC. 3. That this Act takes effect and be in force fro and after its passage; Approved October 26th, 1866.


An Act regulating Contracts for Labor
 SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Texas, That all persons desirous of engaging as laborers for a period of one year or less, may do so under the following regulations: All contracts for labor for a longer period than one month shall be made in writing, and in the presence of a Justice of the peace, County Judge, County Clerk, Notary Public, or two disinterested witnesses, in whose presence the contract shall be read to the laborers, and, when assented to, shall be signed in triplicate b both parties, and shall then be considered binding, for the time therein prescribed.
SEC. 2. Every laborer shall have full and perfect liberty to choose his or her employer, but when once chosen, they shall be allowed to leave their place of employment, until the fulfillment of their contract, unless by consent of their employer, or on account of harsh treatment or breach of contract on the part of the employer, and if they do so leave without cause or permission, they shall forfeit all wages earned to the time of abandonment.
SEC. 3. One copy of the contracts, above provided for, shall be deposited with the Clerk of the County Court of the county in which the employer resides; and the Clerk shall endorse thereon, filed, giving the date, and signing his name officially ; the contract then shall have the force and effect of an authentic act, and be conclusive evidence of the intent of the parties thereto : but all disputes arising between the parties shall be decided before a court of competent jurisdiction, and said court shall have power to enforce the same.
SEC. 4. The Clerk of the County Court shall enter, in a well bond book kept for that purpose, a regular and alphabetical index to the contracts filed, showing the name of the employer, and the employed, the date of filing, and the duration of the contract, which book, together with the contracts filed, shall, at all times, be subject to the examination of every person interested, without fee. The Clerk shall be entitled to demand from the party filing such contract, a fee of twenty-five cents, which shall be full compensation of all services required under this Act.
SEC. 5. All labor contracts shall be made with the heads of families; they shall embrace the labor of all the members of the family named therein, able to work, and shall be binding on all.   

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