The Black Codes Essentially Made Black Life Illegal

Racist cartoon in newspaper
Via Picryl
William Anderson
November 18, 2020

Since slavery had technically been abolished following the Civil War, white people who were upset about not having a free labor force decided to take action. They needed a way to put former slaves back into slavery – so they came up with something that still affects us today.

They used the law! “Black Codes” were legal restrictions that policed nearly every aspect of Black life. Through these laws, slavers forced Black people back into unpaid labor with arrests and fines. It was a sinister plot.

Mississippi and South Carolina were the first to pass Black Codes in 1865. They criminalized holding certain jobs, being unemployed, breaking contracts, and more.

Eventually Black Codes spread throughout southern states. Their legacy would frame public understanding of who was and wasn’t a “criminal.” 

They essentially re-enslaved Black people through imprisonment, paving the way for problems we have yet to overcome. These legal forms of social control still haven’t completely ended!

Mass incarceration, the death penalty, policing, and racist sentencing disparities are modern manifestations of the white supremacy that the criminal justice system is founded on. It’s still about racism, capitalism, and slavery. The system isn’t broken – it’s working by design.

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