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America's History in the Making

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Texas Black Code

CHAPTER CXXVIII

An Act to define and declare the rights of persons lately known as Slaves, and Free Persons of Color.

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Texas, That all persons heretofore known as slaves, and free persons of color, shall have the right to make and enforce contracts, to sue and be sued, to inherit, purchase, lease, hold, sell, and convey real, personal and mixed estate; to make wills and testaments, and to have and enjoy the rights of personal security, liberty, and private property, and all remedies and proceedings for the protection and enforcement of the same; and there shall be no discrimination against such persons in the administration of the criminal laws of this State.

Sec 2. That all laws and parts of laws relating to persons lately held as slaves, or free persons of color, contrary to; or in conflict with the provisions of this act, be and the same are hereby repealed; Provided, nevertheless, that nothing herein shall be so construed as to repeal any law prohibiting the intermarriage of the white and black races, nor to permit any other than white men to serve on juries, hold office, or vote at any election, State, county or municipal; Provided, further, that nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to allow them to testify, except in such cases and manner as is prescribed in the Constitution of the State.

Approved November 10, 1866.

Eleventh Texas Legislature, TEXAS BLACK CODE (1866). Courtesy of the Brazoria County Historical Museum.

Creator The Texas Legislature
Context After the Civil War, former Confederate states attempted to regain economic control of former slaves without attracting the attention of Northerners who were sympathetic to African American rights.
Audience Citizens of Texas
Purpose To take away the rights of former slaves without being too obvious about it

Historical Significance

President Johnson’s mild version of Reconstruction emboldened Southern whites. Slavery was over, but powerful whites still needed black labor and they realized that the war had left their former slaves more hopeful and assertive.

Southern legislators passed clusters of laws, Black Codes, to reestablish white control. The codes covered where blacks could live, when they could be on the street, what occupations they could pursue, and more. They were particularly concerned with stipulating methods for gaining control of black people’s labor.

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