How the Black Codes Limited African American Progress After the Civil War
The black codes effectively continued enslavement for African Americans by restricting their rights and exploiting their labor.
NADRA KAREEM NITTLE
When slavery ended in the United States, freedom still eluded African Americans who were contending with the repressive set of laws known as the black codes. Widely enacted throughout the South following the Civil War—a period called Reconstruction—these laws both limited the rights of Black people and exploited them as a labor source.
In fact, life after bondage didn’t differ much from life during bondage for the African Americans subjected to the black codes. This was by design, as slavery had been a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and the former Confederate states sought a way to continue this system of subjugation.
“They may have lost the war, but they’re not going to lose power civically and socially,” says M. Keith Claybrook Jr., an assistant professor in the Department of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach. “So, the black codes were an attempt to restrict and limit freedom.”
Losing the Civil War meant the South had little choice but to recognize the Reconstruction-era policies that abolished slavery. By using the law to deny African Americans the opportunities and privileges that white people enjoyed, however, the one-time Confederacy could keep these newly liberated Americans in virtual bondage.