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Reconstruction Period Research Forum

Black Codes in the Former Confederate States

Black Codes in the Former Confederate States

Encouraged by President Johnson's evident intention to return to them the management of their own affairs, Southern legislators, elected by white voters, passed what came to be called Black Codes. Their very evident purpose was to reduce free blacks to a new kind of legal servitude distinguished by all the disadvantages of slavery and none of its advantages--a state, many argued, that was worse than slavery itself. That the Black Codes were not the result of a brief lapse in judgment on the part of Southern legislatures or the work of extremists but rose, rather, out of the famous grassroots is indicated by an ordinance passed immediately after the war in the small town of Opelousas, Louisiana; it stated that "no negro or freedmen shall be allowed to come within the limits of the town of Opelousas without special permission from his employers. . . . Whoever shall violate this provision shall suffer imprisonment and two days work on the public streets, or pay a fine of five dollars." Any Negro found on the streets of the town after ten o'clock in the evening had to work for five days on the public streets or pay a $5 fine. The ordinance further provided:

"No negro or freedman shall be permitted to rent or keep a house within the limits of the town under any circumstances. . . . No negro or freedman shall reside within the limits of the town . . . who is not in the regular service of some white person or former owner. . . . No public meetings or congregations of negroes or freedmen shall be allowed within the limits of the town. . . . No negro or freedman shall be permitted to preach, exhort, or otherwise declaim to congregations of colored people without a special permission from the mayor or president of the board of police.. .. No freedman ... shall be allowed to carry firearms, or any kind of weapons.... No freedman shall sell, barter, or exchange any article of merchandise within the limits of Opelousas without permission in writing from his employer In the parish of St. Landry it was required "that every negro [is] to be in the service of some white person, or former owner. ...

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18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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