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Black Codes

The South strikes back!  After the Civil War, in 1865 and 1866, a multitude of laws were passed that were targeted at the newly freed black peoples generally in the South, but some were passed (with less cruelty) in the North as well.  These laws made it possible for the South to retain control over the black population in much the same ways that they had before.  A few of the laws passed dealt with owning property, moving through public spaces, and what is known as the vagrancy laws.

In states such as Mississippi, blacks were only allowed to rent land only within city limits and only in certain parts of the city (which would later become what we know as the ghetto).  This law prohibited blacks from owning land and also from making a profit in the same way that wealthy whites had done through large plantations since blacks were prohibited from keeping a private business on the rented land.  Other Southern states passed similar laws to keep their control over the newly freed blacks from becoming too powerful.

Many states had laws regarding how and when blacks were able to traverse public places that whites generally inhabited.  For instance, blacks were not able to carry weapons at any time, even in the comfort of their own homes.  In Texas, the black population was not allowed to attend public schools, hold office, or serve in a militia.  These laws not only dictated free life for these men and women, but it frightened them into a submissive lifestyle very much like that of when they were still slaves.

Lastly, the vagrancy laws were the toughest.  The most important of these laws were the ones that regarded working.  Each black person between the ages of eighteen and sixty were required to have a job, and if he or she did not have a job, they would be considered to be committing criminal behavior.  Another law that is still in effect to this day is that convicted peoples in prison were hired out for labor purposes, although, in the mid 1800’s, a majority of the convicts were black.

Owning property, moving through public spaces, and the vagrancy laws all made it hard for the black population to move up in the world.  Eventually, a lot of the laws passed during this two-year period were deemed unconstitutional after years of fighting in the South as well as in the North.  Although the victories for the blacks regarding the black codes were sweet, there were still many obstacles they had to face to get to the freedom they have today.

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