Black Codes Definition Essay Example
Black Codes Definition Essay Example

Black Codes Definition Essay Example

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  • Pages: 6 (1435 words)
  • Published: April 26, 2017
  • Type: Case Study
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After the Civil War, the ex-Confederate states implemented "Black Codes" as legal statutes and constitutional amendments in order to restrict the freedoms of newly freed slaves. The main objectives of these codes were to ensure a consistent supply of cheap labor for agriculture and maintain a social hierarchy controlled by white individuals. It is worth noting that the history of Black Codes did not begin with the downfall of the Confederacy; even before the Civil War, southern states had enforced Slave Codes to regulate slavery, while non-slaveholding states in the North had passed laws to limit black individuals' political power and social mobility.

In 1804, Ohio enacted legislation that banned black individuals from relocating to specific states. Following this, in 1813, Illinois introduced a law that completely prohibited free blacks from moving to the state. After the Civil War, Black Codes


were developed which combined elements of pre-war slave laws and regulations on free blacks in northern states. Certain Black Codes incorporated moral provisions from previous slave laws into their labor regulations. For instance, in Texas, a morality clause made it illegal for workers to use offensive language in front of their employers, agents, or family members.

Arkansas implemented a law, influenced by Ohio and Illinois, to prevent free blacks from moving to the state. Yet, as Radical Republican Reconstruction initiatives commenced in 1866-67 and both the Fourteenth Amendment and civil rights legislation were approved, the prominence of Black Codes declined. Despite their short existence, the importance of Black Codes lies in their contribution to the establishment of Jim Crow laws and racial segregation between white and black individuals. In Arkansas specifically, a law was introduced prohibitin

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black children from attending school alongside white children.

The Texas legislature passed a law that mandated railroad companies to assign one passenger car specifically for black passengers. Although ex-Confederate states had some differences, they also had common features in their Black Codes. These features included defining "person of color," denying voting rights and the ability to hold office or serve on juries for blacks, excluding blacks from state militias, and requiring the arrest of vagrant or unemployed individuals (often blacks) for apprenticeship binding.

Fifth, labor contracts between whites and free blacks were mandated and regulated. Additionally, interracial marriages between whites and blacks were prohibited. All the Black Codes aimed to define the concept of a "person of color." Despite this objective, the definitions were not consistent. In Virginia, those with one-fourth Negro blood were classified as people of color. Georgia set the limit at one-eighth, while the Tennessee legislature considered any degree of Negro blood sufficient for someone to be classified as a person of color.

In order to exclude blacks from politics, the leaders of the ex-Confederacy openly declared their intention. To achieve this goal, all ex-Confederate states enacted laws that prohibited blacks from voting, holding political office, or serving in state militias. This perspective also found some support among certain individuals in the North. An article published in the New York Times contended that denying suffrage to freedmen should not hinder Southern representatives from being accepted since it was not regarded as a true injustice.

"No man, regardless of race, has the right to hold a position of civil power if they do not possess the intelligence to properly execute that power." The Black Codes additionally forbid

black individuals from serving in state militias. One possible motive behind these laws was likely a fear of uprisings and armed conflicts. However, another concern was that the presence of armed black soldiers would foster negative attitudes among black people. As an illustration, in Florida, the state legislature passed a resolution urging the removal of black Union Army troops from their stationed areas due to their presence causing alarm among white individuals and fostering disobedience among black individuals.

Florida also implemented laws that barred black individuals from carrying firearms or weapons. If black individuals desired to possess a gun, these laws often mandated that they acquire a license from the county judge and present witnesses, typically white individuals, who would affirm their nonviolent nature. The laws regarding vagrancy were especially harsh towards freed black individuals. Although the language of these laws did not expressly target black individuals, they were primarily enforced against them due to their impoverished circumstances. Generally, vagrancy laws stated that any person deemed unemployed and lacking property by a law enforcement officer or judge could be apprehended and charged as a vagrant. Arresting black individuals for violating vagrancy laws was uncomplicated given their previous servitude, which left them without wealth or land ownership, exacerbated by the federal government's reneging on its promise to grant 40 acres and a mule to 40,000 freed slaves. Upon being arrested and convicted of vagrancy, individuals were subjected to conditions that closely resembled slavery. They were either hired out to private individuals or coerced into laboring on public projects, all without receiving any compensation for their work.

Acts of disobedience, lateness, or attempts to escape in Florida could lead

to imprisonment, being put in the pillory or stockade, or receiving floggings. Flogging usually entailed receiving 39 lashes, a quantity frequently employed when punishing slaves. The apprentice statutes operated alongside vagrancy statutes to ensure a steady supply of inexpensive labor. In accordance with these laws, minors from impoverished families or families regarded as vagrants could be placed under the court's protection and assigned to a master for various durations. Males were typically bound until they reached twenty-one years old, while females were bound until they turned eighteen.

Apprentices often had no say in the trade they would learn. Masters, on the other hand, were obligated to teach apprentices their trade and cover their living expenses. Additionally, masters had to provide basic education to apprentices and give them a monetary gift upon the completion of their apprenticeship. Breaking the apprentice laws by running away or disobeying the master could result in imprisonment, flogging, or having to pay damages. The Black Codes also included regulations for labor contracts with black individuals.

In a popular magazine article, a Southern writer advocated for the forced labor and punishment of black individuals who failed to complete their labor-intensive tasks or contractual obligations. The objective was to make them productive and valuable workers. This approach was implemented through the Black Code labor system, which allowed black people to select their employers but required them to enter into contracts lasting at least one year. Once signed, these contracts could only be terminated by court intervention in cases where employers had breached its terms.

The text highlights the consequences faced by black individuals during a time when their labor was exploited and controlled. It mentions that

this system operated by denying black people the opportunity to accept higher paying job offers, ensuring that landowners could maintain a consistent supply of cheap labor. The punishment for black individuals who violated their labor agreements involved paying damages and serving imprisonment sentences. In some states such as Florida, additional forms of punishment included being placed in the stockade or enduring physical floggings. In Florida, various behaviors were considered breaches of the labor contract, including laziness, failing to report for work, using offensive language towards employers, or attempting to run away. Additionally, most of the slave codes criminalized any attempts to persuade or incite black laborers to break their existing contract agreements.

The Black Codes criminalized minor offenses that were disproportionately committed by blacks due to their circumstances. For instance, in Louisiana, trespassing on plantations became a specific crime, which affected free blacks who often had no homes other than their former master's plantations and consequently increased their likelihood of arrest under these laws. Furthermore, Penal Codes imposed unequal penalties on blacks versus whites for identical crimes.

The unequal punishment was instrumental in upholding the oppression of black individuals. In North Carolina, a law was passed making it a capital offense for a black person to assault a white woman with the intent of rape. Furthermore, interracial marriages between black and white people were universally prohibited under the Black Codes. In Texas, penalties such as fines, imprisonment, or both were imposed on couples who engaged in interracial marriage. These laws closely resembled those enforced in Georgia where knowingly marrying someone of both white and black ancestry was deemed a criminal act.

County clerks frequently had to record marriages

of black and white individuals in distinct registries. In addition, the Black Codes universally recognized the unions of black couples and the legitimacy of their children. However, numerous Black Codes regarded cohabitation without marriage or registration as an offense, with a particular focus on impoverished black rural residents.

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