Timeline

1865

November 24th, 1865

Mississippi Criminalizes Unemployment and Assembly by Free Blacks

Shortly after the end of the Civil War in 1865, Southern states sought to control and confine their large populations of newly-freed black people by passing laws that authorized their arrest and incarceration. These laws, known as “black codes,” typically applied only to black people and criminalized acts that were not offenses at all when committed by whites.

In November and December 1865, the Mississippi legislature approved numerous black codes. One passed on November 24, 1865, declared that “all freedmen, free negroes and mulattoes” found without proof of employment or business or found “unlawfully assembling themselves” would be deemed vagrants and, upon conviction, owe up to $50 in fines and serve up to ten days in jail. The same law threatened whites with vagrancy convictions if found assembling or associating with freedmen “on terms of equality" or found “living in adultery” with a black partner. If convicted, whites faced up to $200 in fines and up to six months in jail.

As a result of black codes like these in Mississippi, and similar laws passed during the same period in states throughout the South, the post-Civil War era brought American black people more contact with the criminal court and prison systems than ever before. As the former Confederacy learned to wield the criminal justice system as a tool of racial control, countless black men, women, and children were convicted and sentenced under unjust laws that criminalized them for existing as free, black citizens.

1958

November 24th, 1958

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Alabama Law Permitting De Facto Resegregation of Public Schools

On November, 24, 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the lower court’s decision in Shuttlesworth vs. Birmingham Board of Education, which rejected a challenge to Alabama’s School Placement Law. This law allowed Alabama school boards to designate student placement and continue racial segregation in schools -- outlawed in 1954 through Brown v. Board of Education – through a de facto process.

The lawsuit challenging the law was brought by Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth on behalf of four African American students in Birmingham who sought admission to white schools that were closer to their homes than the schools at which they had been placed. In its unanimous decision, the court wrote, “The School Placement Law furnishes the legal machinery for an orderly administration of the public schools in a constitutional manner by the admission of qualified pupils upon a basis of individual merit without regard to their race or color. We must presume that it will be so administered.”

Alabama’s School Placement Law, which allowed the school boards to designate placement of students based on ability, availability of transportation, and academic background, was modeled after the Pupil Placement Act in North Carolina, which was enacted on March 30, 1955, in response to the Brown decision. Virginia passed the second placement law on September 29, 1956. In 1957, after the North Carolina law was upheld by a higher court, legislatures in other Southern states passed similar pupil placement laws; by 1960, such laws were on the books in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and the city of Atlanta, Georgia.

Between the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 and 1958, a total of 376,000 African American children were enrolled in integrated schools in the South. This growth slowed significantly as states passed obstructive legislation, and the figure rose by just 500 students between 1958 and 1959. By October 1960, only six percent of African American children in the South were attending integrated schools.