The Notorious Black Codes 

  
Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I work on my Civil War and Gettysburg text I continue to write about truth, and truth can be very uncomfortable. Today is a section of my text that deals with the Black Codes that were enacted in Southern States in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. They sprang up because Abraham Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson was a unregenerate racist who encouraged such measures.  In the next few days I will be posting more sections of the text dealing with specific aspects of Reconstruction and the more often than not heavily racist opposition to rights of any kind being granted to blacks in the North and the South. 

Sadly, there are people today, people who were expensive suits, walk the halls of Congress, speak in our largest churches and travel in high style accompanied by the media who continue to fight against the rights of not only blacks, but of immigrants, the LGBTQ community, women and Moslems.

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

White Southerners including the newly pardoned Confederates enacted black codes that “codified explicit second-class citizenship for freedpeople.” [1] The legislature of Mississippi refused to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, and did not do so until 1995. One Southerner noted that “Johnson “held up before us the hope of a ‘white man’s government,’ and this led us to set aside negro suffrage…. It was natural that we should yield to our old prejudices.” [2] Former Confederates, including Alexander Stephens the former Vice President of the Confederacy were elected to high office, Stephens to the United States Senate and the aggrieved Republicans in Congress in turn refused to admit the former Confederates. Many Union veterans were incensed by Johnson’s actions, one New York artilleryman noted “I would not pardon the rebels, especially the leaders, until they should kneel in the dust of humiliation and show their deeds that they sincerely repent.” [3] He was not alone, many Northern Veterans who formed the integrated Grand Army of the Republic veterans maintained a patent disregard, if not hatred of what the old South stood for and felt that their efforts in the war had been betrayed by the government.

  
Johnson’s restoration of property to the former white owners drove tens of thousands of blacks off lands that they had been farming, or left them as laborers for their former slave masters. Johnson countermanded General William Tecumseh Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s Field Order 15 to “divide abandoned and confiscated lands on the Sea Islands and in a portion of the Low Country coast south of Charleston into forty-acre plots for each black family.” [4] As such many freed blacks were now at the mercy of their former white owners for any hope of economic sustenance.

  
Johnson worked stridently, and often successfully to frustrate the efforts of the Freedmen’s Bureau headed by Major General Oliver Howard to help freed blacks to become landowners and to protect their legal rights. In immediate post-war South states organized all white police forces and state militias composed primarily of confederate veterans, many still wearing their gray or butternut uniforms. In such a climate blacks had few rights, and officers of the Freedmen’s Bureau lamented the situation. In Georgia one officer wrote that no jury would “convict a white man for killing a freedman,” or “fail to hang” a black man who killed a white in self-defense. Blacks commented another agent, “would be just as well off with no law at all or no Government,” as with the legal system established in the South under Andrew Johnson. “If you call this Freedom,” wrote one black veteran, “what do you call slavery?” [5]

  
The struggle between Johnson Congress intensified when Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Bill. Congress responded by overriding his veto. Eventually the battle between Johnson and Congress climaxed when Johnson was impeached when he tried to remove Secretary of War Stanton from office. Johnson barely survived the impeachment proceedings and was acquitted by one vote in the Senate in 1868.

The various black codes enacted throughout the South were draconian measures to codify and institutionalize racism and White Supremacy:

“passed labor laws that bound blacks to employers almost as tightly as slavery once bound them to their masters. Other codes established patterns of racial segregation that had been impossible under slavery, barred African Americans from serving on juries or offering testimony in court against whites, made “vagrancy,” “insulting gestures,” and “mischief” offenses by blacks punishable by fines or imprisonment, forbade black-white intermarriage, ad banned ownership by blacks of “fire-arms of any kind, or any ammunition, dirk or bowie-knife.” [6]

The black codes which were condoned and supported by President Johnson recognized minimal elements of black freedom but their provisions confirmed the observations of one journalist who wrote “the whites seem wholly unable to comprehend that freedom for the negro means the same thing as freedom for them. They readily admit that the Government has made him free, but appear to believe that the have the right to exercise the old control.” [7]

Likewise within weeks of the end of the war, violence against blacks began to break out in different parts of the South and it continued to spread as Johnson and Congress battled each other in regard to Reconstruction policy:

“In Memphis, Tennessee, in May of 1866, whites on a rampage of murder killed forty-six Negroes, most of them veterans of the Union army, as well as two white sympathizers. Five Negro women were raped. Ninety homes, twelve schools and four churches were burned. In New Orleans in the summer of 1866, another riot against blacks killed thirty-five Negroes and three whites.” [8]

Colonel Samuel Thomas, the director of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Mississippi noted the attitudes that he saw in many whites toward the newly emancipated African Americans. He wrote that white public sentiment had not progressed and that whites had not “come to the attitude in which it can conceive of the negro having any rights at all. Men, who are honorable in their dealings with their white neighbors, without feeling a single twinge of honor….And however much they confess that the President’s proclamation broke up the relation of the individual slave to their owners, the still have the ingrained feeling that the black people at large belong to whites at large.” [9] Sadly, the attitude reported by Colonel Thomas not only remained but grew more violent with each passing month.

Notes

[1] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 177

[2] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.491

[3] Jordan, Brian Matthew. Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War Liveright Publishing Corporation a Division of W.W. Norton and Company Inc. New York and London 2014 p.119

[4] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.411

[5] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.96

[6] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.491

[7] Ibid. Foner Forever Free pp.93-94

[8] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.55

[9] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.92

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Political Commentary

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