Black Codes

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‘Black~Codes’ were legal statutes and constitutional amendments enacted by the ex~Confederate states following the Civil War that sought to restrict the liberties of newly freed sIaves, to ensure a supply of inexpensive agriculturaI Iabor; and maintain a white dominated hierarchy. However; the history of Black Codes did not begin wIth the coIIapse of the Confederacy. Prior to the Civil War, $tates in the south enacted Slave Codes to regulate the institution of slavery. Furthermore, northern, non~slave holding states enacted laws to limit the bl@ck political power and social mobility. For example~ in 1804, Ohio enacted Iaws prohibitin black people from immigrating into states. In 1813, the State of lllinois enacted a law banning free BIacks outright from immigrating into the $tate.

Black Codes adopted after the Civil War borrowed elements from the antebellum slave laws and from the laws of the northern states used to regulate free blacks. Some Black Codes incorporated morality clauses based on antebellum slave laws into Back Code labor laws. For example, in Texas, a morality clause was used to make it crime for laborers to use offensive language in the presence of their employers, his agents, or his family members. Borrowing from the Ohio and Illinois codes, Arkansas enacted an ordinance banning free blacks from immigrating into the state.

In the end, the Black Codes were largely extinguished when Radical Republican Reconstruction efforts began in 1866-67, and with the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment and civil rights legislation. Though the statutory lives of the Black Codes were short-lived, they are significant in that they served as precursors to the Jim Crow laws and social segregation among whites and blacks. For example, Arkansas passed a law prohibiting black children from 1attending school with children. The Texas legislature enacted a law requiring railroad companies to set aside a passenger car for black passengers. While each ex-Confederate state enacted its own set of Black Codes, all of them shared certain features. First, they defined the term "person of color." Second, they prevented blacks from voting, holding office, or serving on juries. Third, they prevented blacks from serving in state militias. Fourth, they mandated for poor, unemployed persons (usually blacks) be arrested for vagrancy or bound as apprentices. Fifth, they mandated and regulated labor contracts between whites and free blacks. Sixth, they prohibited interracial marriages between whites and blacks.

All of the Black Codes defined what it meant to be a “person of color.” However, these definitions were far from consistent. The Virginia legislature decreed that any person with onefourth Negro blood in their veins was a person of color. Georgia set the limit at one-eighth. Still yet, the Tennessee legislature declared anyone having any Negro blood at all made an individual a person of color. The leaders of the ex-Confederacy made no qualms about their desire to keep blacks out of the political process. To this end, all of the ex-Confederate states prevented blacks from voting, holding political office, or serving in the state militias. This view had some measure of support in the North. In an article appearing in the New York Times, an author wrote, “The denial of suffrage to the freedmen, we believe, cannot be made a bar to admission of the Southern representatives, for the reason is that it is no real denial of justice. No man, white or black, has title to a civil power which he has not the intelligence to exercise.” The Black Codes also prohibited blacks from serving in state militias. A principle reasons for these laws was probably a concern for insurrections and armed violence. However, a 2corollary concern was that the presence of armed black soldiers encouraged undesirable attitudes in blacks. For example, in Florida, the state legislature drafted resolution...
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