What was the primary purpose of the Black Codes? Did they grant African Americans some rights?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The primary purpose of the Black Codes of 1865-1866 was not to grant African Americans rights. The purpose was just the opposite: to continue to deny African Americans rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States. In fact, the Black Codes, which sought to codify the pervasive practice among former slave owners of continuing to enslave African Americans in practice if not in title through business arrangements highly disadvantageous to the former slaves, were intended to undermine the effects of the late-President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and of the ratification of the 13th Amendment. That said, the Black Codes did "grant" former slaves certain rights heretofore overtly denied, such as the right to testify in a court of law, albeit only when the defendant was also a racial minority, the right to marry (another black; interracial marriage was illegal), the right to own land, and the right to enter into contractual arrangements. Blacks were granted property rights and access to the civil justice system, but, as with carefully circumscribed "rights" regarding marriage, these other "rights" constituted largely empty promises if the opposing party to any civil suit was white. To reiterate, however, the primary purpose of the Black Codes was to perpetuate the institution of slavery, albeit in a modified form.

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