6.4.2 Deep South (1861-1877): Coming to Grips With Emancipation


Coming to grips with emancipation, 1865-66: the postwar black codes

  • During the months after the Civil War’s close, every former Confederate state enacted new black codes.  Some states enacted harsh codes, explicitly designed to keep newly-freed blacks in a state as close to slavery as possible; others enacted milder codes.  Key features of the codes included:
    • Labor contract laws which limited black workers’ right to choose their employment by preventing employers from competing for their labor once they had signed a contract, and which, in some cases, restricted black workers’ rights to object to working conditions or even leave the plantations where they worked.  On the other hand, some states provided a measure of worker protection by requiring employers to put contracts in writing and explain them to workers.
    • Apprenticeship laws, which many former masters used as a tool to try to effectively re-enslave former slave children.
    • Vagrancy laws, which were often used to temporarily re-enslave blacks who could not pay their debts or could not pay fines assessed for petty crimes.
    • Testimonial and jury laws prohibiting blacks from testifying against whites and serving on juries.
    • Criminal laws imposing harsher criminal penalties on blacks than whites.
    • Miscegenation laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
  • Black codes’ severity differed substantially from state to state, and some northern states also had harsh vagrancy and miscegenation laws.  The laws attracted much unfavorable attention in the North and played an important role in Congress’s decision to impose its own reconstruction program on the former Confederate states in 1867.  Many features of the codes were eliminated or softened as soon as the new reconstruction governments took power.
  • On the whole, Deep South black codes were the harshest.  The chart below summarizes the key features of each code; it can be compared with similar tables for the Old South (§ __), Mountain South (§ __) and Texas (§ ___) to see how black codes differed from region to region within the South. 

BLACK LAWS

South Carolina

Georgia

Florida

Alabama

Mississippi

Louisiana

Economic restrictions

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black labor contracts:  laws prohibiting competition for labor

X

 

X

 

X

X

Black labor contracts:   must be in writing

X

 

X

 

X

X

Black labor contracts:  laborers forfeit all wages if quit before end of contract term

X

 

X

 

X

 

Apprenticeship:  Parental poverty is sufficient grounds for forced apprenticeship of children

X

X

X

 

X

 

Apprenticeship:  “bad character” is sufficient grounds for forced apprenticeship of children

X

 

 

 

X

 

Apprenticeship:  former master given preference as new master

 

 

 

 

X

 

Apprenticeship:  apprentice must be given trade and education

X

X

 

 

 

 

Mobility restrictions

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vagrancy laws toughened

X

 

X

X

X

X

Restrictions on black immigration into state preserved

X

X

X

 

 

 

Statutory prohibition of black jury service

 

 

X

 

X

 

Restrictions on assembly of blacks

 

 

X

 

 

 

 Legal discrimination

 

 

 

 

 

 

Court testimony:  blacks allowed to testify only against other blacks

X

X

X

X

X

 

Explicit discriminatory criminal penalties against blacks

 

 

 

 

 

 

Restrictions on blacks’ use of weapons

X

 

X

 

X

 

Anti-miscegenation laws

X

X

X

 

X

 


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