What are the Black Codes? - Lesson for Kids

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  • 0:04 Black Codes
  • 0:48 Use of by Whites
  • 1:26 Laws & States
  • 2:08 14th & 15th Amendments
  • 2:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michelle Jones

Michelle has taught at the elementary level and has earned a master's degree.

The end of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery solved one problem but created another. What would happen to former slaves now that they were free? This lesson explains how white Southerners reacted to this major event in our history.

Black Codes

In 1865, the Civil War had ended and the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery, was passed. Much of the South's farmland had been destroyed in the war, and there were now 4 million newly-freed slaves who weren't quite sure how to start their new lives. President Lincoln had a plan to rebuild the South and reunite the country, but he was assassinated before he could put his plan into action.

Andrew Johnson became president after Lincoln. Because he was from the South, he wanted to make things easier for those that lost the war. Johnson wanted the South to govern itself, but Congress placed strict laws on them. To get around these laws, Southern states began passing Black Codes that limited the freedom of African Americans.

Use of by Whites

Remember how the South had been destroyed by the Civil War? Now that there were no slaves, Southerners wondered who was going to rebuild all of the buildings, farms, and plantations. Whites in the South were going to lose their labor force if black people decided to find other work or even live elsewhere. White leaders used the Black Codes to prevent this from happening.

There were other reasons for the Black Codes. Former slave owners were afraid that former slaves would seek revenge after years of harsh treatment. And let's not forget that in the 1800s, many white Southerners believed that they were better, more capable, and smarter than black people who therefore needed to be 'controlled' in some way.

Laws & States

Fear and ignorance led to the development of Black Codes in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The codes prevented black people from getting certain jobs, going to school, moving to certain areas, owning some types of land, and voting. Black Codes even made it illegal for a black person to marry a white person. Vagrancy laws meant a black person could be arrested simply because he or she was homeless and unemployed.

Under the Black Codes, some black people were treated just like slaves. For example, African-American orphans were forced to work without pay, and convicts were leased to companies or farmers and forced to work for them.

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