The Black Codes: The Period Between Slavery and Jim Crow

William Spivey
5 min readOct 8, 2019
Image on Pixabay

At the end of the Civil War, there were between 3–4 million slaves in America. They were freed in stages. The Emancipation Proclamation, announced January 1, 1863, in the middle of the war; freed only those slaves in states that seceded from the Union. That action immediately freed between 25,000 to 75,000 slaves in territory already held by the Union. Slaves in Confederate-held territory were still slaves, they had to escape to Union-held territory to gain their freedom.

For all practical purposes, the war ended April 9. 1865 when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. States had to sign individual surrender documents with the last of those signed May 26, 1965. About 250,000 slaves in Texas had technically been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation but until the end of the war, there was no one to enforce it so they stayed slaves except for those who escaped. They gained their actual freedom on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers notified them the war was over. The delay was part of an agreement to allow the slaves to harvest the cotton crops before telling them they were free. Juneteenth is now officially recognized as a holiday or special observance in 46 of 50 states.

The 13th Amendment was the document that officially freed slaves nationwide. It was passed by the House of Representatives on January 31, 1865, and President Abraham Lincoln signed a joint resolution for ratification. On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated and Vice-President Andrew Johnson of Tennessee became President. Johnson had remained loyal to the Union although he held staunchly segregationist views. He replaced Lincoln’s first Vice-President on the ticket for Lincoln’s unexpectedly shortened second term as a concession to those with Southern sympathies. Ratification of the 13th Amendment required a certain number of states to individually agree which occurred December 6, 1865. As part of each Southern state’s agreement to be readmitted to the Union. They had to agree to the terms of the 13th Amendment and it was this on a state by state basis that actually freed most of the slaves in territory not held by the Union. So what happens to 3–4 million people without property or jobs?

You rarely hear about the hundreds of thousands of slaves that starved to death. In historian Jim Downs's book, “Sick…