Black History | Black Codes and Pig Laws

black codes 26Black Codes: A body of laws, statutes, and rules enacted by southern states immediately after the Civil War to regain control over the freed slaves, maintain white supremacy, and ensure the continued supply of cheap labor.

Immediately after the Civil War ended, Southern states enacted “black codes” that allowed African Americans certain rights, such as legalized marriage, ownership of property, and limited access to the courts, but denied them the rights to testify against whites, to serve on juries or in state militias, vote, or start a job without the approval of the previous employer. These codes were all repealed in 1866 when Reconstruction began.

But after the failure of Reconstruction in 1877, and the removal of black men from political offices, Southern states again enacted a series of laws intended to circumscribe the lives of African Americans.  Harsh contract laws penalized anyone attempting to leave a job before an advance had been worked off. “Pig Laws” unfairly penalized poor African Americans for crimes such as stealing a farm animal. And vagrancy statutes made it a crime to be unemployed.  Many misdemeanors or trivial offenses were treated as felonies, with harsh sentences and fines.

The Pig Laws stayed on the books for decades, and were expanded with even more discriminatory laws once the Jim Crow era began.

Black Code examples:

A sundown town is a town, city, or neighborhood in the US that was purposely all-white. The term came from signs that were posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown. They are also sometimes known as “sunset towns” or “gray towns”.

No freedmen, negro or mulatto shall carry or keep firearms or ammunition

Race was defined by blood; the presence of any amount of black blood made one black. (One drop rule)

About SouthernGirl2

A Native Texan who adores baby kittens, loves horses, rodeos, pomegranates, & collect Eagles. Enjoys politics, games shows, & dancing to all types of music. Loves discussing and learning about different cultures. A Phi Theta Kappa lifetime member with a passion for Social & Civil Justice.
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20 Responses to Black History | Black Codes and Pig Laws

  1. eliihass says:

    This has been such a deep reminder of the brutality and man’s inhumanity to man that happened and continues to happen in many ways in our country – a country that’s touted as the first of first world nations – and the beacon of democracy, progress and equality.

  2. My mother had to sit in a ‘colored’ waiting room holding a sick child all day until whites were seen first.

    I remember the first time I saw a sign that read ‘No coloreds allowed’. Whites only. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t stop looking at it. I was a little girl but I knew when I read that sign I was not liked because of my blackness.

  3. majiir says:

    The picture of the two water fountains brings back memories. When I was very young, I recall my grandmother taking me to town and we had to ride in the back of the bus. I also remember that my mom would make myself and my siblings use the bathroom before we went anywhere because the “Colored” restrooms were so nasty. I remember not being able to go into the best movie theaters in my city and having to order from the front counter in Krystal Restaurant. We could see whites sitting at the counters and tables in restaurants, but we could not do it.

    I read a LTE in my local newspaper last week in which the writer said that black folks should stop bringing up the past. I turned 62 in December and the memories of what life was like under Jim Crow in GA remains. The writer was trying to blame the continued existence of racism on blacks but failed to realize the role many whites are playing/have played in it. She never mentioned that in order for racism to diminish/die out whites must stop stereotyping and scapegoating blacks, and they must make a real effort to stop discriminating against us. She also never mentioned that as alleged Christians who claim to believe that “man was made in God’s image,” the whites who continue with their racist beliefs and actions are lying to themselves. If they really believed God made us all, there would be no way they’d discriminate against anyone.

  4. Ametia says:

    These black codes have been in practice in the 21st century, they have been resurfacing at alarming rates since JANUARY 20, 2009.

    Does this date ring a bell?

  5. yahtzeebutterfly says:

    “James T. Rapier, Testimony Before U.S. Senate Regarding the Agricultural Labor Force in the South (1880)”


    A. Well, sir, there are several reasons why the colored people desire to emigrate from Alabama; one among them is the poverty of the South. On a large part of it a man cannot make a decent living. Another is their want of school privileges in the State: and there is a majority of the people who believe that they cannot any longer get justice in the courts; and another and the greatest reason is found in the local laws that we have, and which are very oppressive to that class of people in the black belt…..

    …..Now here is one of the laws which also affects us, to which I will call attention. It is found in the acts of Alabama for 1878-’79, page 63, act No. 57, section 1.
    “Section 1. Be it enacted by the general assembly of Alabama, That section 4369 of the Code be, and the same is hereby, amended so as to read as follows: Any person who shall buy, sell, receive, barter, or dispose of any cotton, corn, wheat, oats, pease, or potatoes after the hour of sunset and before the hour of sunrise of the next succeeding day, and any person who shall in any manner move, carry, convey, or transport, except within the limits of the farm or plantation on which it is raised or grown, any seed cotton between the hours of sunset and sunrise of the next succeeding day, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction, shall be fined not less than ten nor more five hundred dollars, and may also be imprisoned in the county jail, or put to hard labor for the county, for not more than twelve months. “

    Now, the effect of this upon the labor of the South is this: A great many laborers work by the month, but all of them are under contract. If I live three miles from a store, and I must work from sunup to sundown, I cannot go where I can do my trading to the best advantage. A man is prevented, no matter whether his family is sick from sundown to sunrise, from going and selling anything that he has, as the landlord will not give them time between sunrise and sundown.

    • And who the hell had $500? This is how they kept them in debt. They’d never get out of it. It’s soul crushing just thinking about it.

      • Ametia says:

        Ferguson lawmakers are doing this with the poorest citizens. Penalizing them with bogus traffic tickets and such. Despicable!

      • eliihass says:

        Not just Ferguson.

        I remember going to fight a traffic ticket and had to go to a different city, to the centralized court that services the entire area. It was disheartening watching all these young kids of color being charged with traffic offenses, walking out of that court with fines that often ran into thousands of dollars, and knowing full well that they could never pay them. This particular judge would not let them take the community service option. Wouldn’t allow it. And I’m thinking, if these kids could not afford the initial 100 bucks or so to smog their car to get their car tags renewed, or to maintain their insurance, where on earth are they going to find the $2500 to pay these bloody fines that have been piled on? It was easy to see how the downward spiral begins. How these kids are stuck with these ridiculous traffic ticket fines which then lead to warrants for their arrest when they can’t obviously pay them.

  6. yahtzeebutterfly says:

    Thank you for your great article centering on the VERY important history of the harsh and unfair legal treatment that Blacks received.

    An 1882 73-page Governor’s report published in Montgomery, AL entitled “Pardons, Commutations, and Reprives for 1878 to 1880. AND 1880 to 1882” gives us insight into the types of crimes that Blacks were arrested for and the hard labor they were sentenced to.

    Here are some of the cases:

    No. 20. JOHN MARSH (colored). Wilcox county. Grand larceny–stealing corn from field. Convicted at the spring term, 1878, of the circuit court. Two indictments. Hard labor for the county two years in each case. Marsh was about seventy years old, and had borne a good character. His pardon was asked by J.Y.Kilpatrick, R.H.Dawson, E.N.Jones, A.C. Matheson, De F. Richards, S.J. Cumming, Senator Burford, Representative Purifoy, and others. Pardoned March 11, 1979.

    No. 31. VIRGIL HUNTINGTON (colored). Lee county. Enticing away servants. Convicted at the April term 1876, of the county court, in two cases. In each case, the sentence was to hard labor for three months, and the costs (amounting to sixty-five dollars and eighty cents in each case) and not being presently paid, to a further term at hard labor of one thousand and fifty two days in each case at six and a quarter cents a day. He had served more than three years of theses excessive sentences. Pardoned May 30th, 1879.

    No. 34 AND 35. JAMES R. VICK (white) and DEMA POPE (colored.) Dallas county. Living together in a state of adultery. Convicted at the spring term, 1879, of the circuit court. Each was sentenced to two years hard labor for the county, and each to one hundred and fifteen days hard labor for costs. They were married after the supreme court had declared unconstitutional the section of the Code prohibiting such marriages, and were indicted, tried, and convicted after that decision had been overruled. They were pardoned in accordance with the recommendation of the supreme court in Hoover’s case. The petition for pardon was signed by Judge Craig, Solicitor Lee, the jury, and the members of the Dallas bar. Pardoned June 9, 1879.

    No. 42. DAVID MARLOW (colored). Butler county. Larceny of seed cotton from the field. Convicted at the fall term, 1877, of the circuit court. Hard labor for the county two years and costs not being paid, an additional term of five hundred and fourteen days hard labor at fifteen cents a day therefor. Marlow was represented to have been a sober, industrious, and economical man, and have borne a good character. He was getting old, and was crippled. His pardon was recommended by Judge Henry, Senator Buell, and others. One the 21st of July 1879, he was pardoned to take effect the first Monday in August, 1879, when his sentence for the larceny would expire.

    • yahtzeebutterfly says:

      In the above Alabama state record representing the 4 years from 1878 to 1882 are 173 people listed with 107 listed as “colored” whose status was changed to “Pardoned, Commuted, or Reprieved.”

      No. 96. John Owen (colored). Lawrence county. Grand larceny. Convicted at the spring term 1879, of the circuit court. Hard labor, two years, and an additional term, duration not stated, for circuit court, charged the taking and carrying away of six ears of corn, a part of a growing crop, the property of Columbus Dodson. Owen was arrested, and failing to give bail for his appearance to answer, was put in jail and was kept there about twenty months before he was tried and convicted. He was put at hard labor under the sentence, July 2nd, 1979, and had served two years for the larceny and nearly one year for costs. It was not stated how much longer it would have taken him to satisfy the judgment for cost. Pardoned May 13th, 1882.

      No. 124. MERRITT HINES (colored). Dallas county. Larceny of growing crop. Fall term 1882, circuit court. Hard labor, one year, for stealing the corn, and hard labor, one hundred and twenty days for being too poor to pay costs of prosecution. Very old. County physician testified to his terribly diseased condition. Pardoned November 17, 1882.

      No. 127. GIBSON LIPSCOMP (colored). Perry county. Trading on farm products between sunset and sunrise, four cases. In each case, twenty days hard labor in lieu of fine and six months for cost.
      Burglary, two cases. In each, twelve months hard labor for county, and in one case twelve months, and in the other eleven months for cost. November tedm, 1878, Perry court of quarter sessions. Nearly seventy years old and afflicted with rheumatism. Pardoned November 28th, 1882.

      • majiir says:

        Thanks for this information, yb. I recall my mom talking about her uncle who was a sharecropper in Selma, Alabama. Every year when the crops were harvested, the white farmer always found a way to cheat him, leaving him in a state wherein it was very difficult for him to provide food and clothing for his wife and kids.

      • yahtzeebutterfly says:

        majiir, just to think of the exhausting hours that your uncle would have worked day in and day out on the farm and THEN to be cheated out of the fruits of his labor by the nasty practices of the landowner is SO upsetting.

        I cannot imagine the stress your uncle experienced knowing he needed to support his wife and children.

        I am feeling tense inside just thinking about this terrible wrong.

      • Hi Majiir

        The white farmers kept the sharecroppers in debt to have a hold on them b/c they couldn’t make it without them. They couldn’t work the crop themselves but needed the black man yet cheated him to no end. I can’t describe my feelings on how black ppl suffered under these Black codes and Pig laws. My feelings range from tears to anger to profound sadness to rage. It was another form of slavery. Some families never saw their loved ones again. And these people had no conscience. They went about their lives as if nothing was happening. Stripping black folks of their humanity without a second thought. Just reporting about the injustice gets to me. It really does. My soul grieves.

      • Ametia says:

        @SG2. The emotional range is totally understandable, SG2. You fight hard to slap back these bigoted acts today. This is how we do it, channel that energy to affect the changes we want.

    • Yahtc, you’re always on top of things. Thank you for this.

      • yahtzeebutterfly says:

        You are very welcome.

        I cannot imagine the huge number of Blacks who were not as fortunate as these people in being pardon. Just to think that over the years thousands and thousands of southern Blacks were sentenced to years of hard labor for the most trivial offenses!!

        One more:

        No. 99. BILL MONTGOMERY (colored). Monroe county. Illegal voting. Convicted at the spring term, 1880, of the circuit court. Penitentiary, two years. Montgomery was over fifty years old, an honest and industrious man, whose good character was unquestioned. He lived within twenty-five yards of a precinct line, and voted in the wrong precinct. A petition for his pardon was signed by W.C. Lowell, probate judge, L.R. Wiggins, tax collector, F.M. Jones, tax assessor, T.L. Lowell, register in chancery, by all the county commissioners, by all the jurors, W.Y. Titcomb, senator, W.T. Nettles, representative, and many others. Pardoned May 13th, 1880.

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