After the Civil War ended and Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed, Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency and faced the daunting task of reuniting the Union and Confederacy. In doing so, he first appointed military leaders to head the Confederate states until formal civilian governments could be created. My first discovery is that while doing this, Congress first created the Freedmen’s Bureau which furnished food, medical aid, education, and work opportunities to emancipated slaves. This surprised me that something like this came before the Black Codes as it makes it seem that there was a genuine effort to immerse freed slaves into society and grant them rights and opportunities that were previously denied to them. This system however angered White Southerners who did not like being ruled by Union officials or by the terms of the Freedmen’s Bureau and wanted to have self-rule in the states. Then after, all the states held constitutional conventions and elected new state governments without allowing freedmen the right to vote.
The second discovery that really shocked me was that each state had their own set of Black Codes, contrary to my belief that all who chose to follow them used the same set of rules. Between 1865-1866 nearly every southern state enacted their own set of black codes with Mississippi and South Carolina being the first to do so. States were given relatively free reign under Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction plan as long as they upheld the 13th amendment which freed slaves, pledged their loyalty to the Union, and paid back their war debt. This large scale freedom in part led to the first black codes being passed, which heavily regulated labor in some states. However, as time went on, the black codes became even more restrictive and continued to take away basic freedoms.
The third discovery I didn’t know before was that the main purpose of the black codes was to limit black’s labor. This surprised me because I thought in most cases the black codes goal was to limit all the rights of freedmen. For the most part, the black codes put former slaves under labor contracts which forced them to be subject to beatings from employers, forced labor, and lower wages than their white counterparts. Sometimes even punishment for acting out was plantation labor, identical to what freedmen completed while they were enslaved.
It was also very interesting to me to discover what the black codes did allow. These new freedoms including the right to buy and own property, marry, make contracts and testify in court but only in cases involving people of their own race. I was surprised that these areas of life weren’t limited but that labor was the main focus of the codes. It was also eye opening to think about that while slaves were now freedmen, they were still under the thumb of white leadership. Blacks still were not granted the right to vote so they effectively had no voice in the government that the 13th amendment supposedly allowed them to be apart of. The Black codes were a mostly Southern construction and angered many in the North. The black codes were seen as the start to the commitment by White Southerners to ensure supremacy as well as the labor culture they wanted in the year after the Civil War.
Source 1: Black Codes HISTORY.com
This site has videos, speeches, and an extensive background on the Black Codes that provide a general but encompassing history of the topic.
Source 2: “A Short History of Reconstruction” by Eric Foner
The book obviously is written about the Reconstruction era which is when the Black Codes were enacted. There are several different mentions of the codes in the book and relate it to a larger theme of the overall failure of Reconstruction.
Source 3: “The Black Code of Georgia, U.S.A”
This is an essential resource because it is an actual copy of some of the original black codes of Georgia. This will be vital because I can then compare it to other states codes to see any differences and how they each restricted blacks.
Source 4: “Slavery by another name”
This source is important because it provides videos on how the black codes were the predecessor to other restrictive rules such as the Jim Crow laws.
Source 5: Black Code of Mississippi
This is an essential source because it will provide insight into how the codes were worried and also provide a comparison against other sets.
Source 6: Race, Racism, and the Laws
This site is interesting because it provides insight into how mass incarceration of black males and voting disenfranchisement today may be a result of the codes.
Source 7: “Attempt of a Mother to Murder her Child”
This was a newspaper article describing a crime where a mother tried to kill her own child and how it fell under the the jurisdiction of the black code.
Source 8: Encyclopedia Britannica “Black Code”
This provides a sound definition of the term as well as providing excerpts as examples of codes and links to supportive articles as well.