Northern States had them, too. I think these things are worth examining. If we want to know more about why and how things got so out of hand in this country (I mean beyond slavery itself), we retrace our steps back to decrees such as these.
One measure of equality suggested by the British sociologist T.H. Marshall is “citizenship” – the “basic human equality associated with . . . full membership of a community.” African American history, from bondage through the civil rights movement, is often seen through the political lens as a struggle for citizenship and full membership in American society.
Legislated repression in post-slavery South
…[I]t shall not be lawful for any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto to
intermarry with any white person; nor for any white person to intermarry
with any freedman, free Negro, or mulatto; and any person who shall so
intermarry shall be deemed guilty of felony and, on conviction thereof,
shall be confined in the state penitentiary for life … — from
Mississippi Black Codes, enacted Nov. 22, 1865
As formerly enslaved Blacks would soon learn, freedom was not as they had
anticipated. White southerners were anxious to regain power over them and
used the law in order to achieve that objective. In 1865, southerners
created Black Codes, which served as a way to control and inhibit the
freedom of ex-slaves. Codes controlled almost all aspects of life and
prohibited Blacks from the freedoms that had been won.
Not only did whites want to control ex-slaves, but also they needed
laborers. While things could no longer be exactly the same as in slavery,
they found a way to guarantee that Blacks would serve as their laborers. To
do this, they created Black Codes. While Codes were unique to the
post-Civil War south, they encompassed some of the antebellum restrictions
on free blacks, northern apprenticeship laws, and the Freedmen’s Bureau and
the War Department regulations. Codes regulated civil and legal rights,
from marriage to the right to hold and sell property to the predestined
definition of Blacks as agricultural laborers.
Laws were different in each state but most embodied the same kinds of
restrictions. Commonly, codes compelled freedmen to work. In many states,
if unemployed, Blacks faced the potential of being arrested and charged
with vagrancy. Many of those that did work had their day regulated. Codes
dictated their hours of labor, duties, and the behavior assigned to them as
Black Codes left Blacks with little freedom. The choice of the type of work
was often regulated. Many white southerners believed Blacks were
predestined to work in agriculture. In addition, the advantage of
regulating occupations provided them with laborers. In South Carolina, for
example, a special license and certificate from a local judge, attesting to
a freedman’s skill, had to be obtained before a formerly enslaved person
could earn a living in agriculture or indomestic service.
Self-sufficiency was also discouraged. Codes prevented Blacks from raising
their own crops. In Mississippi, for instance, they were restricted from
renting or leasing any land outside of cities or towns and Black ownership
was left up to local authorities.
Almost every aspect of life was regulated, including the freedom to roam.
Often Blacks were prohibited from entering towns without permission. In
Opelousas, Louisiana Blacks needed permission from their employer to enter
the town. A note was required stating the nature and length of the visit.
Any Black found without a note after ten o’clock at night was subject to
imprisonment. Residency within towns and cities was also discouraged. Local
ordinances in Louisiana made it almost impossible for Blacks to live within
the towns or cities. Residency was only possible if a white employer agreed
to take responsibility for his employee’s conduct.
“This Week In Black History: Legislated repression in post-slavery South.” Michigan Citizen. 2001.
Black Codes in Georgia: 1865–1900
W. E. B. DuBois and his students included a comprehensive hand-written list of the Georgia Black Codes (laws affecting blacks 1865–1900) as part of The Georgia Negro exhibit in order to demonstrate how the law had specifically been used as a tool to discriminate against black people. Three hundred pages of legal material were tediously copied out by hand. DuBois had included a similar compilation of laws affecting the slave trade in his classic 1896 work, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade.
Sample pages from DuBois’s list of Black Codes
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