The Black Codes
The Black Codes
As newly freed slaves 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 African Americans 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 Freedmens Bureau and the War Department regulations.
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Codes regulated civil and legal rights, from marriage to the right to hold and sell property to the predestined definition of African Americans 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 African Americans with little freedom. Even the freedom to chose a type of work was often regulated. Many white southerners believed blacks were predestined to work as agricultural