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Origins of Jim Crow - the Black Codes and Reconstruction

The video discusses the Jim Crow era and the struggle for racial equality in the American South. It highlights the Black Codes, laws limiting African American rights, and the 14th Amendment, which granted full citizenship to all born in the U.S., regardless of race.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] So in the last video we started talking about the system of Jim Crow segregation, which was a legal form of segregation, and denial of voting rights or disenfranchisement, which characterized the American south from approximately 1877 to 1954. Now we finished up by saying that, with the end of the Civil War, the system of slavery, which had been the economic and political system which characterized all of the south for the 200 plus years before the Civil War, and I finished up by saying, now that the Civil War has outlawed slavery in 1865, what is the south going to look like without slavery? So in this video, I want to really dial-in in this period after the Civil War known as Reconstruction. Now I don't have room here to go into a great deal of detail about the Civil War, we'll make many more videos about that in the future, but what I do think is important to note about the Civil War, is that for the United States of America, often called the north in the Civil War, even though the Civil War really didn't start out as a war to end slavery, by the end of the Civil War it had really become a war to end slavery, as northern armies became in effect armies of liberation in the south. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in all states that were rebelling against the United States, and in 1865 the government ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery for good. But all the 13th Amendment said was that you couldn't have slavery, it really didn't say anything about what race relations between whites and blacks in the south would be after the Civil War, or whether not being a slave meant that an African American person in the south had the full rights of citizenship that a white person would have, so in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, states in the south began writing new constitutions to account for the end of slavery, but the white leaders in the south really have no conception of a world where African Americans are equal to whites, and so the new laws that they write regulating African Americans after the war are known as the Black Codes, and these Black Codes are in many ways slavery by a different name. So the Black Codes acknowledged the end of slavery, and they give some basic rights to African Americans such as the right to marry, which enslaved people could not legally do under the system of slavery, and the right to own property. But that is pretty much it. The Black Codes did things like prevent African Americans from owning firearms, from being without a labor contract, now remember the south is based on these cash crops like tobacco and cotton, and landowners are terrified that if all of the former enslaved people leave the south, they're going to have nobody to work in their fields, nobody to harvest these crops, and their economic system is going to plummet, they're already in very bad shape after the Civil War. So they say, all African Americans have to be in a labor contract, and these labor contracts were usually very small wages for quite a bit of labor, and if they were not in a labor contract or if they left in the middle of a year, say, then they were considered vagrants. And the most outrageous thing that these southern governments do is say that African Americans cannot vote. Now to people in the north, who had just fought a four year-long war where more than half a million people died, to end slavery, seeing southern states pass laws that are pretty much slavery with another name, was galling. And so the more radical Republican elements in Congress, these are members of Abraham Lincoln's party, who are strongly abolitionist, who are strongly in favour of civil rights for African Americans, and strongly in favor of a strong central government, say "OK, this system of Black Codes is not OK. "When we said slavery was over, "we didn't just mean that you couldn't enslave someone, "we also meant that African Americans "had full citizenship rights in the south." So to combat the Black Codes, Congress passes the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. And the 14th Amendment says that anyone who was born in the United States, regardless of whether or not they were a slave, is a full citizen of the United States eligible for all of the benefits of citizenship and equal protection under the law, so laws must be equal for whites and for blacks. And we'll get into what that means, in the next video.