Restrictive Rural Legislation: Examining the Black Codes in Southern States

Categories: Slavery And Freedom

The Black Codes are specified as laws passed mainly in the rural locations of Southern states targeted at limiting civil liberties and rights if African-American population. The Black Codes are generally related to legislation of the Southern States, whereas a few of the Northern States likewise passed discriminating legislation. The Codes were passed after the American Civil War and Restoration attempted to control job opportunity and life activities of all African-Americans.

The laws were used to manage the liberty of African-American slaves as the nation couldn't permit them to be totally independent and equal.

In terms of law, the Black Codes were discrimination policies versus African-Americans. It is known that some of the laws were active till 19th century in several Northern States. For that reason, the goal of the paper is to talk about discriminating activities in the former confederate states. (McElrath 2006) Black Codes in Confederate States The Black Codes were initially encouraged the President Johnson who intended to introduce them into the domestic policy of the nation.

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President Johnson was chosen by white citizens and, for that reason, every one of his voters thought about the practice of the black Codes normal and warranted as most of population didn't concur with flexibility and civil liberties of former slaves. As it is mentioned above, the main purpose of the Black Codes was to deny African-American servants from their legal status. Historians argue that the Black Codes didn't result from a quick lapse in judgment put on African-Americans by the Southern legislature.

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Rather, the Black codes were the result of the ordinance passed after the Civil War in the little town of Opelousas in Louisiana State. (Horton & & Horton 1998) According to city's legislature, African-Americans weren't enabled to leave the limitations of the town till they were officially permitted either by the city government or companies. If any Africa-American attempted to breach the guideline, he would be imprisoned and sentenced to two-three days of work on public streets. Additionally, he would be fined of about five dollars.

What was more awful is that African-Americans weren’t allowed to walk after ten o’clock in the evening and the one who violated the rule would have to work five days on the public streets. We see that the ordinance was strict and it extended even to civil rights. For example, African-Americans were forbidden to rent or buy a house within the town under any circumstance. Furthermore, it was forbidden for them to reside within the town till they are in regular service of white employers or ex-owner. Other restriction included:

• No public meetings within the limits of the town; • No permissions to exhort, preach or any relations with white people until permission is provided by the president of board police or major; • No permission to carry any kinds of weapon; • No opportunities to sell and to barter any articles within the city limits. In Alabama the Black codes suggested that civil officers were provided with responsibility to report “the names of all minors whose parents have not the means, or who refuse to support said minors”.

(Smith 2002) The treatment was the same as discussed above: they were arrested and sentenced to public work. African-Americans were allowed to work, but they should be provided with fixed residence and could be able to provide good account of themselves. Otherwise, no employer would offer them job. One of the sections says that African-Americans should “to give security for their good behaviour for a reasonable time and to indemnify the city against any charge for their support”. (Smith 2002) Otherwise, in case of rule violation they were confined to labor of not more than six calendar months.

Further, Alabama was authorized to “restrain and prohibit the nightly and other meetings or disorderly assemblies of all persons and to punish for such offences by fixing penalties not exceeding fifty dollars for any one offence”. (Smith 2002) Otherwise, African-Americans were fined and if they couldn’t afford to pay fine, they were sentenced to public works. Florida provided similar practices for discriminating Africa-Americans, but in some cases laws appeared to be more severe as Africa-Americans could be sentenced up to twelve months.

Florida laws stated that Africa-Americans, mulattos or other colored person wasn’t allowed to “keep any bowie-knife, dirk, sword, firearms, or ammunition” till he got official license. (Wilson 1965) If any violated the rule, he had to surrender and to “stand in the pillory ... for one hour, and then [be] whipped with thirty-nine lashes on the bare back”. (Wilson 1965) Penalties were also imposed on all persons of color who decided to enter religious or public assembly of white people. Moreover, they were forbidden to enter railroad, car or other vehicle if whites were in them.

Thus, they had to set apart from the white persons. In the South Carolina the Black Code claimed that African-Americans weren’t allowed to “shall pursue the practice, art, trade or business of an artisan, mechanic, or shopkeeper, or any other trade or employment besides that of husbandry, or that of a servant under contract for labour, until he shall have obtained a license from the judge of the district court, which license shall be good for one year only”. (Wilson 1965) A year for license cost African-American shopkeeper about $100.

If African-American decided to breach the contract or he was fired till the expiring date, he would be deprived from his earnings for that year. Furthermore, even white persons were forbidden to give or sell any articles to African-Americans and mulattos as it was considered a severe misdemeanor and such persons were imposed a penalty of more than 4200. Moreover, they could be even fired. (Litwack 1980) In Louisiana the Black Code stated that after the law was introduced, every African-American or mulatto had to find a comfortable home and means to support his family within twenty days.

Otherwise, they were arrested and should work for white employer who offered the highest bid. Historians write that “laborers under contract were not allowed to keep livestock, and all time spent away from the job was to be charged against them at the rate of $2 a day, to be worked out at the end of the contract period”. (Wilson 1965) In Louisiana the law required African-Americans to make contract for agricultural work within the first tend days of January every year. If the worker was absent because of health problems, he wouldn’t pay for that day.

Moreover, if employer revealed that the worker was simple pretending that he was ill, the double fine was imposed. In the North Carolina and Virginia the Black Codes were less severe than in other Southern states. In Tennessee, for example, the effort to introduce the Black Codes was defeated by Unionists. The impulse behind the Black Codes was the fact that white people in Southern states always believed that African-Americans presented danger and threat to society by committing violent act against their ex-owners and by refusing to work. Refusing to work resulted in bankruptcy of many land owners.

Therefore, introduced of the Black Codes was motivated mainly by economic reasons – in such a way, ex-slaves were forced to work for ex-owners and white employers under the prescribed conditions. Whites were willing to dominate ex-slaves and not to eliminate the institution of slavery. (Birnbaum & Taylor 2000) Conclusion The research paper discusses the practices and policies of the Black Codes with specific references to former Confederate States. Summing up, the Black Codes were mostly referred to the Southern states (Alabama, the South Carolina, Louisiana, etc. ) and several Northern States (the North Carolina).

The Black Codes were designed to reduce freedom and to deprive African-Americans from their civil rights and liberties. African-Americans weren’t allowed to vote and to take part in government, as well as they were deprived from personal rights. (Smith 2002)



  1. Birnbaum, J. , & Taylor, Cl. (2000). Civil Rights since 1787: A Reader on the Black Struggle. New York: New York University Press.
  2. Horton, J. , & Horton, L. (1998). In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest among the Northern Free Blacks. New York: New York University Press.
  3. Litwack, Leon. (1980). Been in the Strom So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery. New York: New York Press.
  4. Lowery, Ch. , & Marszalek, J. (1992). Encyclopedia of African-American Civil Rights: From Emancipation to the Present. USA: Greenwood Press.
  5. McElrath, Jessica. (2006). The Black Codes of 1865. Retrieved February 29, 2008, from http://afroamhistory. about. com/od/blackcodes/a/blackcodes1865. htm
  6. Smith, Page. (2002). Black Codes in the Former Confederate States. Retrieved February 29, 2008, from http://www. civilwarhome. com/blackcodes. htm
  7. Wilson, Theodore. (1965). The Black Codes of the South. USA, Alabama: University of Alabama Press.
Updated: Apr 29, 2023
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Restrictive Rural Legislation: Examining the Black Codes in Southern States. (2016, Aug 10). Retrieved from

Restrictive Rural Legislation: Examining the Black Codes in Southern States essay
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