The 'Black Codes'
After Lincolns assassination, Andrew Johnson assumed the position of President. Johnson, a flagrant racist, believed in states rights and that the federal government should have little to do with the laws passed in each state. Because of this, the ruling class of the South, all former plantation owners, were left to create racist laws as they saw fit. The loss of free labor from Black people left the already defeated South decimated, so much that the racist whites created a set of laws to intentionally suppress the progression of the freedmen and women. These laws came to be known as the ‘Black Codes’. They were severly restrictive and oppressive in every way imaginable, intentionally mimicking the slave codes that had existed prior to the abolition of slavery. With these laws in place, Black people were once again reduced to being the working class and white people in absolute control.
While the laws varied from state to state all of them served the same purpose: limit the autonomy of Black people.
A few examples of these atrocities included:
-Black people being required to have written evidence of employment at all times, failure to do so could result in jail time (being hired out to work).
-After going into a work contract (many of them were illiterate), if they broke the contract early they were forced to forfeit ALL of the wages they’d earned and serve jail time (being hired out to work).
-In South Carolina, Black people couldn’t hold jobs other than servant or farmer, and to do other work they had to pay a tax up to $100.
-Arrest for vagrancy (hired out to work..again)
-The state could take custody of children whose parents could or would not support them; these children would then be "apprenticed" to their former owners (being hired out to work).
-Black people couldn’t buy liquor or own weapons.
-South Carolina authorized the death penalty fo the theft of cotton.
-A Louisiana code prohibited black people from being out at night without a white person as their companion.
-Jail time for swearing in the presence of white people (being hired out to work).
As the country emerged into what would become known as the ‘Reconstruction Era’, many of the states did away with the laws, and Black people flourished politically, economically, and socially. However by 1877 at the end of this era, the same oppresive laws remerged, this time they were called ‘Jim Crow’ laws, and they would remain legal until the 1964 Civil Rights Act….
My mother was born in 1964….. that wasn’t that long ago…do you really think 300+ years of racism could vanish in 55 years?