How were the black codes and the Fourteenth Amendment related?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Black Codes were laws that Southern States passed in the wake of the Civil War and within Reconstruction to limit the freedoms of newly liberated African Americans in a post- Slavery South.  The codes themselves were a form of control that, while not truly slavery, sought to keep the power structure intact that prevented a great deal of mobility on the part of African Americans in a world where the social institution of slavery was noticeably absent.  Some of these codes addressed civil rights, voting rights, freedom of speech, marriage laws, as well as freedom of mobility as well as occupational opportunities.  There were a form of control that sought to prevent African- Americans from enjoying a sense of enfranchisement that the dissolution of slavery would have allowed.  Along with the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which were known as the "Reconstruction Amendments" because of their ratification in the wake of the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the rights of citizenship to all people of color.  Essentially nullifying the Dred Scott Supreme Court Case that argued that slaves were not citizens, the Fourteenth Amendment argues that the rights of citizens can be conferred on people of color, and in particular, African- Americans.  With the guaranteeing of citizenship, all the rights associated with such a status would follow, thereby nullifying state laws such as the Black Codes.  Of particular note in the Fourteenth Amendment is its Due Process clause which guarantees a sense of institutional fairness on both substantive (intrinsically legal) as well as procedural levels (the ways the laws are executed.)  With this clause, the Fourteenth Amendment was seen as bringing the full force of the Bill of Rights and the enumerated rights within the Constitution to all localities and states.  The Fourteenth Amendment was seen as a critical component of America being able to deliver on a promise to a large segment of the population who had seen for such a long period of time their hopes and dreams deferred in the worst of ways.

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