Black Codes (United States)

In the United States, the Black Codes were laws passed by Southern states in 1865 and 1866, after the Civil War. These laws had the intent and the effect of restricting African Americans' freedom, and of compelling them to work in a labor economy based on low wages or debt.

Since the early 1800s, many laws in both North and South discriminated systematically against free Blacks. In the South, "slave codes" placed significant restrictions on Black Americans who were not themselves slaves. A major purpose of these laws was maintenance of the system of white supremacy that made slavery possible.

With legal prohibitions of slavery ordered by the Emancipation Proclamation, acts of state legislature, and eventually the Thirteenth Amendment, Southern states adopted new laws to regulate Black life. Although these laws had different official titles, they were (and are) commonly known as Black Codes. (The term originated from "negro leaders and the Republican organs" according to Confederate historian John S. Reynolds.) The defining feature of the Black Codes was vagrancy law which allowed local authorities to arrest the freedpeople and commit them to involuntary labor.

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