New Restrictive laws

With the expiration of Reconstruction, a series of revived Black Codes or Jim Crow statutes emerged, with every southern state eventually enacting some barrier to black suffrage. The most well-known strategies were the poll tax, the grandfather clause, and literacy tests. A steady procession of states revised statutes to bar interracial marriage as well. West Virginia, for instance, invalidated the marriages and imposed a fine of $100 and imprisonment for up to one year on participants and a fine of as much as $200 for officiants. In addition, the Supreme Court invalidated the 1875 Civil Rights Act, which barred segregation in many public accommodations. Through the end of the 19th century, states around the country proceeded to separate blacks and whites in almost all public venues, including schools. In 1896, the Supreme Court validated segregation and Jim Crow rules in Plessy v. Ferguson. In addition to the legislative and judicial retreat
from civil rights, a process using the criminal justice system to return large portions of the black population to unpaid labor emerged in some southern states as the convict lease system.


With blacks disenfranchised and removed from the roll of eligible voters, they were also in many jurisdictions no longer eligible for jury duty. In other jurisdictions, they were simply excluded. This created local and state judicial systems where blacks were excluded from political office, barred from voting, excluded from juries, and variously blocked from the practice of law. Within this system, all-white prosecutors, judges, and juries sentenced African Americans
to long prison terms and then sold their labor to private contractors who maintained labor camps, complete with armed guards. The states pocketed
part of the income from the unpaid prison workers and had ample reason to incarcerate African Americans at a disproportionate rate. Additionally, within the prison system, the state had broad ability to punish workers with brutality largely unseen by the public.

However, the south was not the exclusive theater for African American crime and punishment during this period. Monroe Work’s pioneering study of African American crime in 1897 Chicago notes that blacks made up 29.49 percent of prisoners in the United States in 1890. Moreover, in

Scroll to Top