Black codes were stringent rules aimed to restrict the liberty of African Americans and secure their existence as an affordable labor force after slavery was outlawed after the Civil War. However, the Union triumph granted approximately four million enslaved individuals their liberation, and the subject of freed Black people’s place in the postwar South was still unsettled.
Throughout the Black Code, several states obliged Black people to sign annual work contracts; if they refused, they risked being imprisoned, penalized, and coerced into free labor. Fury about black codes helped damage the favor of President Andrew Johnson and the Republican Party.
The Black Code laws impacted the lives of African American people. As the enslaved persons strove for freedom and economic autonomy during the early years of Reconstruction, white landowners used a structure identical to that which existed before slavery to manage the workforce.
To that purpose, Mississippi and South Carolina passed the first black codes in late 1865. Mississippi legislation compelled Black people to have formal documentation of work for the next year every January; if they departed before the conclusion of the contract, they were compelled to lose previous salaries and faced incarceration.
In South Carolina, a statute-barred Black people from engaging in any vocation other than farmer or servant unless they paid a $10 to $100 yearly levy. This provision was particularly harsh on free Black individuals residing in Charleston and former slave artisans. Both governments imposed severe punishments on vagrants, including forced plantation work in certain instances.
The law limited black people’s freedom; in 1865 and 1866, practically every southern state passed a black code under Johnson’s Reconstruction policy. In addition to the ability to purchase and hold property, marry, form contracts, and testify in court, the rules primarily restricted Black labor and activity.
Almost all former Confederate states established strong truancy and labor contract laws and “anti-enticement” provisions aimed to penalize anybody who offered greater pay to a Black employee already under contract. Apprenticeship rules forced many youngsters into unpaid work for white planters. All-white police and state militia units implemented the black codes throughout the South, typically made up of Union soldiers of the Civil War.
The rules strictness and broad Black opposition outraged many in the North, who said they breached basic independent work ideals. After Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Act, Republicans essentially seized Reconstruction. Established in 1870, the 15th Amendment protected citizens’ ability to vote “on the basis of race, color, or prior state of servitude”.
During Aggressive Reconstruction (1867-1877), Black males were elected to southern state legislatures and even the US Congress. After Reconstruction ended in 1877, Blacks had achieved little progress in social and economic standing, while white supremacist groups fought hard to reverse the accomplishments earned in terms of political power.
Jim Crow laws would remain to discriminate in America but fuel the civil rights struggle. Nevertheless, as seen by the black codes, white southerners were determined to maintain their dominance and plantation agriculture in the postwar years. The brutality of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan weakened backing for Reconstruction programs after the early 1870s.