the black codes

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
agricultural workers.

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.

Black codes

Sample pages from DuBois’s list of Black Codes


the house at the end of the road

Although I am reading two books similar to this right now, I am so eager to jump into this one.  My “mulatto” google alert alerted me to this review.  I found myself fascinated by the first two paragraphs…

The Family That Rejected Jim Crow

By Martha A. Sandweiss

The Story of Three Generations of An Interracial Family in the American South

By W. Ralph Eubanks

Smithsonian. 206 pp. $26.99

W. Ralph Eubanks’s family memoir tells a double story, one about the past and the other about the author’s efforts to uncover it. This has become a familiar kind of literature, the search for family roots that becomes a search for one’s own identity. But Eubanks has an unusual story to tell. His maternal grandparents, Jim and Edna Richardson, lived on a remote rural road in a black community in the now deserted town of Prestwick, Ala. According to family stories, they married in 1914 and by 1929 had seven children. Jim was a white man, a “boisterous adventurer” and bootlegger who ran a logging business. Edna’s racial heritage was mixed, but she thought of herself as black. In Jim Crow Alabama, where the courts had repeatedly upheld the state constitution’s ban on interracial marriages, the Richardsons constituted an unusual sort of family, and they defied the social rules that governed the segregated South. After Edna died in 1937, Jim remained in Prestwick with his light-skinned children. They could have moved away to start life anew as a “white” family. After all, Eubanks says, the children were so fair that a federal census agent once categorized them as “white.” But the family “made a conscious choice to identify as black people, in spite of skin color and features that would have allowed them to move seamlessly into the white world.”

Eubanks sees this act as both radical and heroic. As a black man married to a white woman, he finds in his grandparents’ lives valuable lessons for his own. “Sometimes it even felt as if they had forged a path for the life my wife and I shared, occasionally guiding us on our way.” He thus crafts a progressive tale of social improvement, with his grandparents’ and parents’ lives in the Jim Crow South paving the way for his own youth during the civil rights era and eventually leading to his 11-year-old daughter’s vision of a world “where race matters less and justice and our common humanity matter more.”


christia adair

Christia Adair (1920)


In 1920, Christia Adair took some schoolchildren to meet the train when Republican Warren G. Harding was campaigning for the presidency. After seeing him shake hands only with the white children, she became a Democrat.
[b.1893 – d.1989]

Christia Adair was a teacher, a community leader, and a tireless activist for the rights of women and African-Americans. Born in Victoria on October 22, 1893, Adair spent her early years in Edna, then moved to Austin with her family in 1910. She attended college first at Samuel Huston (now Huston-Tillotson University) and then at Prairie View Normal and Industrial College (now Prairie View A&M.) After graduation she moved back to Edna, where she taught elementary school.

She married Elbert Adair in 1918, and they moved to Kingsville. There she opened a Sunday school, and also began her community activism. She joined a multiracial group opposed to gambling, and then became involved in the suffrage movement. At that time neither blacks nor women could vote, and anyone who knows her feminist history knows that there was some racism in the suffrage movement. Indeed, after the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, blacks were still turned away from the polls because of racist whites’ tactic to deter them: the white primary. Since the South was wholly Democratic at that point, the primary basically decided the election. Thus excluding African-Americans from the primary effectively disenfranchised them. Adair had this to say:

“Back in 1918 Negroes could not vote and women could not vote either. The white women were trying to help get a bill passed in the legislature where women could vote. I said to the Negro women, “I don’t know if we can use it now or not, but if there’s a chance, I want to say we helped make it. 

“We went to the polls at the white primary but could not vote…We kept after them until they finally said ‘You cannot vote because you are a Negro.'”

This was a smart strategy, because that gave them grounds to sue. And sue they did. The Adairs had moved to Houston in 1925, and Christia had become very active in the Houston chapter of the NAACP. As executive secretary, she was a driving force behind the landmark lawsuit, Smith v. Allwright, which overturned the white primary – and helped set the stage for Brown v. Board of Education.

In the Jim Crow South, these activities made Adair and her colleagues targets for racist whites. The chapter received bomb threats with alarming regularity. The Houston police were not helpful. In fact, they were a hindrance. According to Adair’s entry at the Handbook of Texas Online:

In 1957 Houston police attempted for three weeks to locate the chapter’s membership list. While the official charge was battery – the illegal solicitation of clients by attorneys – Adair believed the real purpose was to destroy the organization and its advocacy of civil rights. She testified for five hours in a three-week trial over the attempted seizure of NAACP records. Two years later, on appeal to the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall again won a decision for the organization. Adair never admitted having membership lists or having member’s names. In 1959 the chapter disbanded and she resigned as executive secretary, though she later helped rebuild the group’s rolls to 10,000 members.

Now that’s a hardcore sister. And she didn’t stop there. She was a lifelong leader in the Methodist Episcopal Church and a precinct judge for more than 25 years. She also helped to…

* desegregate Houston’s public buildings, city buses, and department stores
* win Blacks the right to serve on juries and be considered for county jobs
* convince newspapers to refer to blacks with the same courtesy titles used for 
* desegregate the Democratic Party in Texas

Any one of her achievements is impressive. Taken together, they’re downright amazing. And folks noticed. Adair was recognized by many for her brave and principled activism. Zeta Phi Beta sorority named her Woman of the Year in 1952. In 1974 Houston NOW honored her for suffrage activism. In 1977 she was selected as one of four participants in the Black Women Oral History Project, sponsored by the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College. That same year the city of Houston named a park for her. And in 1984, she was named to the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. Adair died just a few years later at the age of 96, on New Year’s Eve 1989, leaving behind her an indelible legacy of justice and equality.

Above bio from: NOW National Organization for Women
Photo and paragraph directly below photo from: 
‘The Face of Our Past: Images of Black Women from Colonial America to the Present’ edited by Kathleen Thompson and Hilary Mac Austin

WOW!!!  Such an important woman.  How had I not heard of her before?  Thank you, Omega!

segregation remembered in 1976

I really enjoyed reading this “old” time magazine article.  It’s from the year of my birth, so it’s not that old. Right?  In one of my latest youtube videos I interviewed a biracial woman from West Virginia and we spoke of how some southern whites say they are “proud to be white”, but we think they really mean that they are “proud to not be black”.  The Washington Redskins part of this article brought that conversation to mind.

Segregation Remembered