Black Codes and Southern Legislation in 20th Century Effect on African Americans

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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The history of African Americans was filled with constant fighting for independence and rights that truly belonged to African American citizens. Starting at the beginning of the reconstruction era, you can see the spark in change for the treatment towards African American citizens and the fight for what John Locke would say is their Natural Rights. African Americans have gone through many challenges that denied them of many opportunities. The biggest example that African Americans faced would be the creation of the Black Codes.

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Blacks Codes were laws and legislation created in the south to go against African Americans. Things like the Poll tax, Grandfather clause and Literacy Tests are all examples of legislation made by the south to go against African Americans and give more power to white people. These laws prevented many of African Americans rights and opportunities while living in the country. This legislation was passed by southern states and a few northern states in the 1860s. The Black Codes better known as Jim Crow Laws, was a backlash after President Johnson required all states to abolish slavery and made confederate states pay off their war dept from the Civil War. Furthermore, President Johnson then allow these same states to handle any problems or people how they see fit. In result, these Black Codes denied African Americans freedom by making segregation legal, forcing them to work for low wages or to work off any dept that the person may owe, and overall prevented them to acquire equal rights to which other citizens (white people) had, especially the right to vote.

The Black codes were created to target African Americans. One of the things the Black Codes did was deny African Americans the right to freedom, which the vast majority of white people was given sanction to and made all African Americans subjects to them. An example of this is when African Americans was forced to be segregated from white people. Whites denied them from having the freedom to walk and go to public establishments that were “white only”. Evidence of this Jim Crow law was in 1896 when Homer Plessy was arrested when he sat in a “white Only” railroad cart in the east part of Louisiana. This event led to the infamous court case named Plessy V. Ferguson. This case ruled that all railroad companies had to “equally” provide separate railway carriages for the whites and colored races. Information was obtained from source. Therefore, making the Separate But Equal Constitutional doctrine though did not violate the 14th amendment, the doctrine stated that segregation was to be permitted as long as both whites and African Americans were to follow it. Which is Impossible to happen and was really discrimination against African Americans. Additionally, segregation made its way into the United states Schools because of local governments.

This was to prevent African Americans from getting a good education. Though state governments allowed them to go to school, the schools they were given were very few and the school was given the bare minimum in material and supplies. This forced some kids to travel very excessed distances to go to school if they wanted any type of education. Evidence of segregation and discrimination in schools was in 1957, when Governor of Arkansas Orval Faubus called in the National Guard to prevent African American students from attending Little Rock Central High school. Later that month, President Dwight D. Eisenhower had to deploy federal troops to escort nine African Americans into the school. In reference to the unknown author on The Nine African Americans volunteered to be the first black students to attend the white school in Little Rock, Arkansas. After the Brown V. Board of Education Ruling. The Brown Versus Board of Education was similar to the Plessy versus Ferguson case. The U.S. District court in Brown Versus Board of education actually reverses the decision made by the court with Plessy versus Ferguson case back then and used it in their final ruling. Based of Unknown author on who wrote about the Brown versus Board of Education case, on paragraph three and four. Brown versus board of education was a case between the plaintiff or accuser Oliver Brown and the accused Board of education in Topeka, Kansas. Oliver Brown filed for a suit against board of education Topeka for discrimination against his daughter, Linda Brown. Oliver Brown stated it as discrimination because his Daughter, Linda Brown, was denied from Topeka’s all white elementary schools. Additionally, he added that schools for African Americans were not equal to schools for whites and the segregation that was allowed in the south violated the so-called equal protection clause that was given by the 14th amendment. This clause says that no state can deny any person in its jurisdiction equal protection that would be acquired by laws. The U.S. District court agreed and stated that the segregation implemented by southern governments had detrimental effect upon African Americans and gives a sense of Inferiority against African Americans. But after all the U.S. District court ended up still upheld part of the Separate but Equal doctrine.

In addition, Black codes in other words known as Jim crow Laws were used by southern states to limit African American activity and labor in society. Even though, Former confederate states were required to uphold the 13th amendment which was made in the 1860s in the reconstruction era. The era which took place after the civil war and was over the mistreatment and slavery of African Americans and additionally forced the southern states as known as the Confederate States to swear loyalty to the union and pay off their war debt. This Major war and battle between Americans cause by Americans which was just one the bloodiest battles in American history. Still then did not stop Confederate states from still finding some way to twist words and find a “legal” way to discriminate and mistreat African Americans. Furthermore, limit the rights of African Americans preventing them to being on the same level or even close to same level as white people. In 1865 to 1866 southern states enact their own Black Codes in other words known as Jim crow laws. These facts on the Black codes were based off the website, which gave evidence to how white people had the right to handle African Americans any way they feel.

Therefore, African American that broke labor contracts were subject to arrest, beat down on and forced into labor and apprenticeship laws forced many into unpaid labor for white planters. Labor and apprenticeship laws were enforced by all-white police and state militia forces at the time but most of all confederate veterans of the civil war across the southern states. Mississippi in the reforming of their government that was caused the 13th amendment created by congress, in response adopted a law that required blacks to have written evidence of employment for the coming year each January. This was a set up for Africans Americans to allow white people to have a viable reason for denial and to charge them for something that Africans Americans could not get themselves out of. Furthermore, most African Amercians were born into slavery so they only knew how to do one set of skills, these skills were the same thing they have been doing their whole life. Also, even if African-Americans did get a job they were super low in wages. In addition, the Mississippi approved a similar law that forced Africans Americans to forfeit earlier wages earn made in the beginning of the year to that point in time, if the left for any reason at all. This forced African Americans to have to stay with their “boss” and accept the very low payments for long hard labor.

For South Carolina, As part of their reform in the state government, they adopted a law which prohibited African-Americans or blacks from holding any occupation after then farmer or servant unless they paid an annual tax of 10 dollars to 100 dollars. Also, Blacks were given heavy penalties for vagrancy. This meant they gave them a penalty for being homeless, which included forced planation labor. In addition to that African American where not even paid in this time. Therefore, while they were trying to work off the penalty, African Americans would still have no money in the end. So African Americans would end up back at the plantation labor to the point there would sometimes just be a cycle of African Americans leaving then being brought back. Even though it was really the different laws fault cause how they were set up to result in African Americans being homeless and having to be forced to the planation to work hard labor. Still in result of this, it prevents African Americans from accumulating a lot money and not getting any power. This hit free black and former slaves hard in both states. Even though this law obtained to this state and another to that state. These laws all together effected every single African American.

Jim Crow laws took away African Americans’ freedom and limited their way of life. A race of people who was and still are affected by putting up different types of laws that took away their rights as people in the United States of America. One example is the right to vote, which denied and prevented anyone from voicing their opinions on electing officials that affect daily life for African Americans. Therefore, allowing more laws that went and discriminated against them to be made and put into law. Another example is the poll tax. The poll tax was a tax that required people to pay a fee for voting and taking a poll. This law deliberately went against African Americans because most did not have salaried jobs to pay the tax. If the person did have a job, most African American jobs did not pay enough for them to be able to participate in a poll. A poll of new legislation or electing for a governor could go on without African Americans not even participating because of the poll tax. Additionally, whites were able to get out of paying this because of the Grandfather clause.

The Grandfather Clause was enacted by about seven southern states around 1895 and 1910. The clause was made to deny suffrage to African Americans political election Suffrage is the ability to vote in political election. Also, the clause had allowed people that were voting before 1866 or 1867 the ability to be exempt from any educational, property, or tax requirements made for voting. The Grandfather clause also applied to any Lineal descendants of former white voters. As stated from unknown author on the website.

It is important to note why the condition was put into effect before 1866 and 1867. Due to former slaves finally being allowed to do such luxury of voting in 1870, through the 15th amendment. The 15th amendments stated that the right of citizens of the United States of America should not be denied or abridged by the United States of America or state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

The Poll tax along with other hurdles made it impossible for African Americans to vote. Coming from the website that gives support to this research, Literacy tests were one of the addition hurdles African Americans had to deal with at the time. This test was applied around the same time as the poll tax and was going deliberately against African Americans.

The literacy test was implemented because a very high percentage of African Americans were illiterate; that percentage was 50% to 70% due to slavery and education discrimination. Only 8% to 18% of Whites were illiterate during this time. If you were a decedent of a voter or a voter before 1866 and 1867, then whites get to pass the test because of the Grandfather Clause. If an African American somehow made it and passed all of the hurdles, they still had to go through one more thing. Which were, of course, the multiple hate crimes done against African Americans from trying to obtain any equal rights. After all, this was being set up by white people to stop African Americans from suffrage. The discrimination created a high wall that denied anything African Americans wanted to do or even gave them a hint of power. You see more evidence of this when in 1940, after checking statistics only a mere three percent of African Americans in the south were voting.

In the 1960s, African Americans and some whites from the north banded together finally to go to the South to get some justice; these people were called the Freedom Riders. In the South, these good people were very severely assaulted and harassed. The police looked on and pretended nothing was happening. Through many sacrifices and with people like Medger Evers, who was shot and killed in front of his home by a white supremacist in 1964 along with other Americans. Almost a total of 43% of African Americans became registered voters. Soon voter discrimination against African Americans ended due to a beautiful and yet horrifying civil rights movement. The movement marched from the City of Selma to the city Montgomery in the state of Alabama. This movement was handled and made by African American voter registers and influenced by the arrest of 8 teachers and almost 800 children during a voter registration campaign in Selma, Alabama. As stated by unknown author, on the website.

The march took a horrifying turn when the people were met by Alabama state troopers when crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge which spanned over the Alabama River. The state troopers and white racists proceeded to attack the people and beat them down which they even used a fire truck hose to spray them down not caring from anyone injured even children and seniors.

Many tv stations broadcasted the attack and America witnessed firsthand the horrific evil of their discrimination towards African Americans. After a long time of suffering from whites through slavery, oppression, discrimination, and constant attacking. The march was the final straw that led the government of the United States of America to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was introduced by President Lyndon Johnson. The act got rid of the poll tax, and any test found to give discrimination towards anyone denying them the right the vote. As stated to the that helps in support. This legislation also prohibited any state from making any new law that denied anyone the right to vote. The act increased the percentage of African American voter went from 43% to 70% in 1970. Again, to reference the website that helps gives evidence to support. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave over millions of African Americans the right to vote. The Act made it a little easier for African American to people to vote and for their voices to be heard in America.

Black Codes sometimes known as Jim Crow laws along with Additional southern legislation in the 20th century had a big impact on African Americans. These same codes denied African Americans of freedom, forced them to work for low wages and prevented them to have any rights that white people had, including the right to vote. The Black Codes in American history consisted of different legislation that limited and discriminated against African Americans. This included things Like the Poll Tax which prevent African Americans from voting. Other Legislation that discriminated against Africans Americans would be the Literacy Test and Grandfather Clause. The literacy test was given and approved by southern government to prevent African Americans from voting in political elections. This was set up to purposely fail African Americans so that they would not be able to vote in any election for “legal” reason. The grandfather clause was able to give viable reason for whites to not have to follow regulation set up by congress. courts cases in American history had an important landmark in American history. For example, the Plessy versus Ferguson case in 1896 which homer Plessy filed against John Ferguson which ended up going to the supreme court. The ruling came back to basically Homer Plessy losing the case and John Ferguson Winning. Resulting in Segregation being legal and the making of the Equal But Separate Clause and Doctrine. Though this case led to go against African Americans. The 20th century was important in American history cause it led to an essential shift for all people in America but most importantly for African Americans in this time period. The 20th period included the obtaining of better rights for African Americans and the Civil Right Movement that was a very substantial landmark for the Community of African Americans. One court case that show evidence of this and led to the better for them was the Brown versus Board of Education in 1954. Which included Oliver Brown And the Board of Education in topeka, Kansas. This event between Oliver Brown and Board of Educaiton allowed the change for better legislation to give more rights to African Americans. Which eventually led to influence great people in African American history, like, Martin Luther King Jr. Who led the Civil Rights Movenment and Rosa Parks who took a stand agiant the oppersion being applied towards blacks. Overall, the history of America was filled with the fighting of the rights that trufully belong to African Americans. But without these events and court cases that took place and people that eventually took a stand for what was right. It would be impossible for all of us to be who we are today.

Work Cited

  1. Editors, “Brown v. Board of Education.”, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009,
  2. Editors, “Little Rock Nine.”, A&E Television Networks, 29 Jan. 2010,
  3. unknown, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Grandfather Clause.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 26 Mar. 2019,
  4. unknown. “Brown v. Board 50th Anniversary.” Constitutional Rights Foundation, 2000,
  5. unknown. “Poll Taxes.” National Museum of American History, 3 May 2018,”
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Black Codes and Southern Legislation in 20th Century Effect on African Americans. (2021, Apr 10). Retrieved from