The Laws That Made Black Survival Harder

Convict camp in Greene County, Georgia
Via Picryl
William Anderson
November 14, 2020

Enraged white people, resentful of the idea of Black freedom after emancipation, knew they had to re-enslave Black people somehow. When they weren’t busy terrorizing Black people, they were passing laws that criminalized Black survival – like the “Pig Laws.”

The “Pig Laws” were penalties that explicitly targeted Black people. States like Florida, Georgia, and Alabama explicitly used this legalized racial profiling to lock our people up. 

Like many racist laws, they seem “fair” on the surface – but the details show what their true purpose was.

In Mississippi, for example, the law “lowered the dollar threshold for what constituted grand larceny.” It made stealing farm animals, considered “Negro behavior,” much easier to punish with prison time. There’s a reason they focused on stealing animals.

Historian Khalil Muhammad explains that this alleged “theft” of farm animals was used because Black people were frequently cheated out of payments they were entitled to after slavery. If they were defiant and claimed an animal as payment, they could be re-enslaved through imprisonment because of this law!

Laws like this contributed to the incarceration of Black people and made survival harder. White people used these laws to lock us up – laying the foundation for the modern criminal justice system. It’s still happening today, because the system STILL works according to this same design.

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