Difference between Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws

Updated on December 9, 2016

After the US Civil War, the Black Codes were enacted to restrict the rights and liberties of freed African-Americans slaves in the Southern states. Black Codes and Jim Crow laws were repressive laws meant to preserve slavery using legal means. Let’s find out if the Black Codes are any different from the Jim Crow laws.


Black Codes
The Black Codes were designed to make sure freed African-Americans remained workers

The Black Codes were state laws enacted by the Southern states at the end of the Civil War. Mississippi was the first to enforce these laws which prevented Blacks from owning property, buying and leasing land, conducting business and moving freely in public places. Blacks were also forbidden to bear arms. They were not allowed to vote, nor could they become mechanics, shopkeepers or artisans without paying $100 to get a license from a district court judge. In essence, the Black Codes were introduced to keep the former slave workers from actually being able to pursue their newly-found freedom. This caused many workers to escape their jobs and leave.

Vagrancy charges were a major part of these laws. Men were arrested for not having jobs, or having jobs that did not serve the interests of Whites. Those who failed to show work documents to authorities were arrested and charged with vagrancy. Those who did not pay taxes or broke any other laws were charged with vagrancy as well. Workers who tried to escape their jobs were forced back to work and were not given wages for the year.

 Jim Crow laws
Jim Crow laws enforced segregation in everyday life, including in the use of drinking fountains

Jim Crow laws were put into effect during the South’s Reconstruction period in the 1890’s to enforce racial segregation in public places in the former Confederate States. They continued to be in place until 1965. The term Jim Crow is believed to have been derived from a black character played by song-and-dance white actor named Thomas Rice who painted his face black. Blacks were required to use separate and poorly maintained facilities (if any were available) compared to white Americans.

For example, in Florida there were segregated public schools, public transportation, restrooms, drinking fountains and public places. During Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, even federal workers and the US military were segregated. By 1938, the term Jim Crow grew synonymous with the word “Negro”. Racial segregation laws against Blacks were passed near the end of the 19th century, which later on took on the name Jim Crow laws.

Black Codes vs Jim Crow Laws

So, what’s the difference between Black Codes and Jim Crow laws? The Black Codes may have come before the Jim Crow laws, but both were designed to suppress and discriminate against Blacks.

The Black Codes were enacted by the Southern states at the end of the US Civil war. They prevented emancipated African-American from owning property, moving freely, conducting business and owning or leasing land. They were also banned from bearing arms or voting. Their main purpose was to return freed slaves to their former status through legal means.

The Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in the former Confederate states starting in 1890. The Jim Crow laws were designed to avoid interracial mixing in all aspects of daily life. Blacks were not allowed near Whites anywhere in the South, from public schools, drinking fountains, public restrooms and even in the US military. Jim Crow laws were enforced to broaden discrimination and place African-Americans at an economic, social and educational disadvantage.

Comparison Chart

Black CodesJim Crow Laws

Enacted to curtail African-American civil liberties and rights

Enacted during Reconstruction era in the Southern states to enforce racial segregation
Were enforced to keep African-Americans destitute after the Civil WarWere enforced to broaden the reach of the Black Codes
Prohibited Blacks from owning private property, walking freely, carrying arms, etc.Prohibited interracial mixing


Here’s a YouTube video that discusses Black Codes and Jim Crow laws.