Slave Codes, Black Codes, and Finally Jim Crow Law
During slavery the laws or rules that governed the lives of enslaved people (Black Slaves and Native American slaves in some ways) involved beatings, lynching, torture, permits to travel, and other forms of brutality in the North and the South. Each and every time advancement would be made the dictators of race (white supremacists) developed ways around respecting human life—specifically people of color. When slavery was made illegal by the 13th Amendment the southern states resorted to trickery and laws to prevent freedom. The 13th Amendment did not actually abolish slavery for the southern states enacted “Black Codes” to undo the progress that the defeat of the Confederacy had created.
Blacks codes (adopted in 1865 - 1866) were used to prevent freedom for enslaved people by creating and passing legislation that included vagrancy laws, convict leasing, debt peonage, and other invented crimes to sabotage the 13th Amendment. Don’t listen to people making the claim that the 13th Amendment abolished slavery—it did not. In order to nullify the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment the Mississippi legislature was the first to introduce racist laws that were copied, often repeated in other southern states. The Mississippi racist legislation of 1865, called the Vagrancy Act of 1865, required blacks, who were supposedly free, to carry in their possession proof of employment. Not to produce this document, and sometimes even if it was produced, would result in an arrest and a return to plantations work. Hence, blacks and others would be forced back into slavery by another name. The fine for not being employed, or the accusation of such, resulted in fines that could not be paid by newly released slaves, or Native Americans and poor whites.
The hell did not end with vagrancy laws. Codes of conduct were introduced that would later be the stepping stone for Jim Crow law after Reconstruction, which included charges of “mischief” and “insulting gestures” against “whites.” The North passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, but it too would be sabotaged after Union troops left the South as a result of racist orders by the president. Native Americans were subjected to Black Code similarities in the West as the genocidal campaign against them started in full swing. All of this brought forth the Slaughter House Cases (1873), which justified slavery (called peonage) which could be used against Chinese and Native Americans. In other words, slavery could continue by calling it something else.
The Supreme Court sought ways to agree with southern racists and western expansionists by watering down the meaning and the spirit of the 13th Amendment. The idea that all forms of slavery would be eliminated by the “abolition” of slavery would increasingly become a farce. Reconstruction sought to end the Black Codes and was partially successful, but was defeated when Union troops were withdrawn from the South and the good ole racist boys went back to work by creating Jim Crow law. These laws defined the rules of behavior that blacks had to obey when in the presence of “whites” (whites is in parentheses because they were something else before the term white was invented). Jim Crow law (segregation) included refusal to allow blacks to utilize all white social institutions including all-white hospitals, graveyards, theaters, restaurants, schools, playgrounds, hotels, and other venues. Racism did not end and neither did slavery as the proponents of white supremacy sought ways to pass on injustice generation after generation. Now, we are faced with mass incarceration, racists brandishing arms, police brutality, homelessness, job discrimination, and a crazed racist President.