December 19th, 1865

South Carolina Requires Blacks to Enter into Contracts with White "Masters"

Following the Civil War and emancipation, many freed black people in the South remained beholden to their former white masters. In South Carolina and other former slaveholding states, many freed people continued to reside in the same communities, sometimes on the same land, working for whites who had previously purported to own the men, women, and children as property. Freedmen had limited opportunities to earn money to support themselves and their families and often continued to work as manual laborers in slavery-like conditions. In many ways, “black codes” enacted following emancipation sought to maintain white control over freedmen and perpetuated the exploitation black people had experienced during slavery.

South Carolina's black codes, like others, contained many laws that applied only to black people. One measure restored freed blacks' subservient social relationship to white landowners, stating that “all persons of color who make contracts for service or labor, shall be known as servants, and those with whom they contract, shall be known as masters.” The law required black “servants” to work from dawn to dusk and to maintain a “polite” demeanor. South Carolina reached even further into black laborers’ personal lives, prohibiting apprentices to marry without their masters’ permission, forbidding farmers living on their masters’ land to have visitors, and imposing a curfew. Another black code sought to restrict the upward mobility of the black community by forbidding freedmen in South Carolina from pursuing any occupation other than laborer unless able to pay a $100 fee.