Black Codes: Control Before the Crow
Day 2 of #BlackHistoryMonth we learn about the precursor of Jim Crow: The Black Codes.
Black codes were the tool of white people to achieve societal control and cheap/free “legal” labor of freed black people during Reconstruction. The South started imposing a set of rules or codes to sabotage Reconstruction. The unifying fear of white Southern society, in the aftermath of the Civil War, was not rebuilding, but keeping their low-cost work force available to still work the land. President Andrew Johnson, who was elevated from the office of Vice-President to the Presidency after the assassination of President Lincoln, was sympathetic to the plight of rich white Southerners and did not hold them to account for their treason. He issued a set of laws to protect them and harm blacks. This was the period of Presidential Reconstruction, which only lasted two years.
However, the damage was done. The southern states were embolden by the actions of President Johnson and they started to pass their own sets of nuisance laws that were only applied to blacks.
For instance, without the express written approval of a white man, blacks could not preach. If a black person preached the gospel in front of a congregation the preacher was subject to arrest and being bailed out to work for a white man for free until his debt was paid.
It was against the law for a black person to not have a job in many Southern states. A job was defined as working for a white person. If a black person was found to not be in the employ of a white person, they could be arrested and their children would be separated from them and placed in apprentice programs ran by white people until the boys turned 21 and the girls turned 18.
Some state’s black codes barred gun ownership, unless a black person had a written letter from a white man saying it was proper for this person to have a gun on their person.
It was against the law for black people to consume liquor. If found to have consumed or possessed liquor they were arrested and forced to do five days of free labor for the benefit of the county/state/municipality.
Again, these laws did not apply to white people. These laws were modest encroachments in the erasing of the freedoms afforded black people via the Civil War. Due to the Union army being stationed in the South to quail any terroristic violence that white people sought to inflict upon black people, there had to be another way to maintain control: the law. However, in 1877 about ten years after Reconstruction had begun, it would end. The army would be pulled out of the South and that would allow for Jim Crow to place his boot on the necks of black folks.
Black Codes were used to separate families, imprison black men, and force black people to work for free. These laws nullified the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That is why being a voter is the most radical and subversive thing that anyone can do, because only white land-owning men were initially allowed to be voters, now all of us can be voters. I plan to empower as many people to be voters this election cycle as I can, I hope you join me.