Racial disparity: Institutional Racism from Black Codes to the Present

black history, reconstruction, institutional racism, Racial inequality in America, Reconstruction, Black Code,,, Jim Crow, ,,Institutionalized racism, how whites hold blacks back, black history, black poverty, racial wealth gap, housing inequality, black incarceration
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series How Whites Hold Blacks Back

Institutional racism didn’t end in 1865. The present racial disparity is the result of segregation policies starting with black codes, then Jim Crow; some that lasted well into the 1970s, others that have been created since and are in place today

black history, reconstruction, institutional racism, Racial inequality in America, Reconstruction, Black Code,,, Jim Crow, ,,Institutionalized racism, how whites hold blacks back, black history, black poverty, racial wealth gap, housing inequality, black incarceration(05-07-2018, updated 07-11-2018)  A question I saw on Facebook: “What have whites done, since slavery, to prevent blacks from succeeding? Why do we owe them anything?” So, how did the racial disparity in America happen? Why is there so much black poverty? Does racial inequity still exist? This post can be considered an introduction to the hold-my-beer series that resulted. The answer requires looking into centuries of black history, of institutional racism, the many creative ways whites have systematically excluded blacks from the American dream. Black history is shaped by institutional inequity. Of course, it not only resulted in the racial disparity we still have today, it was also the driving force behind the agents of change within the black community and beyond. However, the focus of this series will be the effects and lasting consequences of institutional racism.


Yes, obviously slavery, before and during the Civil War. But anyone who thinks that once slavery was over, everything was hunky-dory, has either had no history lessons to speak of, or wasn’t paying attention. After the Southern states capitulated, the Federal Army stayed in the South for another eleven years to ensure that all enslaved people were indeed freed and that they were paid for their labor from then on, and treated fairly and equally in general. Public programs like public education and public healthcare were set up, and the army oversaw elections. African Americans voted and ran for office and African Americans became mayors, senators, congressmen. This period is called the Reconstruction.

The Black Codes

As soon as the Union Army left in 1876, however, white Southerners came up with the Black Codes, laws that ensured white supremacy and white power over blacks. This was the beginning of institutional racism post-slavery. Different states had different laws or more or less severe versions, but the following are some of the most common: Any black person who could not prove he was employed and had housing would be arrested and “rented out” until he had paid off the exorbitant  fine; apprentice laws allowed for the “hiring out” of young children and orphans as free labor; some states didn’t allow blacks to own land; they were excluded from certain jobs and trades; they were not  allowed to own firearms; they could not testify in court against a white person; and interracial marriage was a crime. In short, these black codes returned Southern society to how it was before the Civil War in every way but universal slavery for blacks.

Jim Crow

The Black Code was succeeded by Jim Crow: from 1877 (end of Reconstruction) to the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Acts were passed into law. The public programs set up during the Reconstruction were severely cut the moment the federal officials left in 1876. Laws were enacted that segregated blacks from whites in all areas of society, laws that made it illegal for blacks to leave their job (they were forced to sign one-year contracts) or the state they had been enslaved in, laws that required blacks to be able to spell better than their hick white counterparts if they wanted to vote, and apart from laws, white supremacist organizations like the KKK and employers also effectively intimidated most black folks into staying away from the polls. In late June, 1946, Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo, in a public radio address, called on

every red-blooded Anglo-Saxon man in Mississippi to resort to any means to keep hundreds of Negroes from the polls in the July 2 primary. And if you don’t know what that means, you are just not up to your persuasive measures.

All these laws were justified by the overarching Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Their bullshit line was that they didn’t see blacks as unequal, but rather as “separate but equal”. And although the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) guarantees equal protection under the law, regardless of race, in reality blacks could not count on it. Between 1882 and 1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States, that we know of, that is.  Of these murdered people 3,446 were black. Many of the white people who were lynched were killed because they helped blacks.


It’s a myth that segregation was only a Southern thing, and that it, too, ended, in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Acts. Many whites want to believe that everything’s been hunky-dory since then. No more segregation, equal rights for all, so the present racial disparity must be … what? … must be due to African Americans being lazy, or dumb, or because of cultural differences? What?

When I started researching individual Jim Crow laws, like segregated housing, I realized that this was going to take more than one post. So in the following posts I will discuss several forms of institutional racial inequity, not just during this period and not just in the South. The next post will deal with housing, and I have to say, I was gobsmacked to read how deliberate government policies led to the current situations in America.

A note on the side: In these posts I’m primarily focused on African Americans because I started researching this in response to the question on Facebook by Mr. Clueless. (But at least he asked.) Also, it fits in with some research I’m doing in a different area. In many cases my findings apply to other ethnic minorities as well. I might take on each minority separately in some way in the future, but I can’t make any specific promises at the moment.

This post is Part 1 in the series How Whites Hold Blacks Back. Here is the next one.

(This post was first published on the blog Resident Alien: Being Dutch in America, under the title: “But That Was Then, This Is Now : Part 1 Introduction”, 05-07-2018)


Header image: mine.

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8 thoughts on “Racial disparity: Institutional Racism from Black Codes to the Present

    1. Yes, it’s not emphasized in American school history books, because American history is taught as American nationalism, not what actually happened. Everything has to be the story of America moving forward, and the story of Reconstruction in the South, and that it only lasted a decade and then things went backward doesn’t fit in that narrative. Here’s another post I wrote about reconstruction: https://residentalien.co/2014/03/24/reconstruction-now-you-see-it-now-you-dont/

  1. The comment (and privilege) that you referrenced at the beginning is a hard thing to answer…since the replies are just so numerous and bleedingly obvious it’s hard to know what to say. But your post is a great start!
    (For more, Code Switch did a great concise look at housing discrimination and its malignant consequences. There’s a quick 6-minute video summary on this page, and link to the full show. Just in case you could use it! https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2018/04/11/601494521/video-housing-segregation-in-everything)

    1. Oh, I just saw this when I posted my post! Great! It touches on everything I mention in my post and on income, crime and education, which I’m going to address in separate posts, but which are all tied into housing and one another. Thanks!

    1. Awesome, Curt! I will put it on my ever-growing list of books to read. I might as well tell everyone now that I’m writing my own book, eventually, about fascism and authoritarianism in America, so I’m reading like crazy and this is just the kind of case study that’s useful to illustrate a lot of points.

  2. I think that it was the 5th grade but it might have been the 6th or the 7th grade when a boy moved to our suburb from Dallas TX and was in my class.
    This boy had learned US history from a southern perspective very well.
    It was really a culture shock for me to hear some of the things that he said.
    Many northern whites eat this narrative that the civil war was a northern mistake up. But for me there was an obvious problem.
    Let me explain it by using some dialog.
    Dallas Boy: The North invaded the south not to liberate slaves but to prevent southern states from forming their own country like the 13 original colonies did in 1776.
    Me: So do you mean that my ancentors who fought in the Union army were the bad guys?
    Dallas Boy: No they were simply mistaken. They had been duped in to thinking the slaves in the south were mistreated and lived worse lives than even poor white people in the south. The motive of the people who duped them, the carpetbaggers, was to start a war to be able to colonize the south for themselves.
    Me: So you are not saying that my union army ancestors were evil you are saying that they were idiots instead?
    The thing is if I did not buy what he was selling that would mean that I was calling his ancestors who fought in the confederate army either evil or idiots. By extention anyone who honors the wrong side in the conflct must either be evil or and idiot since either they can not recognize the truth or the do not care about the truth.
    Usually it is the victors who write the history. In the case of the civil war, rather than sending the slaveholding landed gentry to be worked to death in Haitian sugar plantations the northern leaders let them continue the war by other means.
    The southern slaveholding landed gentry was much more successful the second time around. We now have a USA in which not only the southern slave states but many other states are breeding grounds of American execptionalism. A few states along the east and west coasts and the norhtern border with Canada are not yet fully functioning breeding grounds. But they are battle grounds in which the ideological decendents of imperialism hold as much sway as those who long for a civil republic.
    A civil republic is not possible when African Americans have less than 10% of the wealth per capita as whites. We can not even say that we are getting there until that figure rises to at least 65%.

    1. I would say 100%. But yes, there’s a whole lot wrong with what your Dallas boy claimed.
      Carpetbaggers was a term used for Northerners who came to the South after the Civil War, during Reconstruction, to help set up and oversee the full and democratic integration of the former slaves. Carpetbaggers were not a thing before Reconstruction.
      And no, Dallas boy’s ancestors who fought for the South in the Civil War were most likely not evil or idiots. Odds are they were poor and therefore couldn’t pay their way out of being drafted. The actual slave owners didn’t have to join and many even left to Europe for the duration.
      Also, there weren’t thirteen original colonies. That’s a way of keeping the American creation narrative nice and neat. Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Rupert’s Land and the Island of St John, as well as East Florida and West Florida (the Florida panhandle and parts of present-day Georgia and Alabama) were also British colonies in 1775. I am not familiar yet with the present-day Canadian areas, but East and West Florida were invited to join in the revolution. They chose not to, for many reasons. East and West Florida, for instance, didn’t feel that being under British rule was all bad. They felt that the British were much better able to defend them from the French and the Spanish. But that just doesn’t sound as good in history books: The American Revolution, where 13 of the 20 or so British colonies fought the bad British for independence, and some of those that didn’t join are now Canada and some didn’t join because they didn’t think Britain was bad and they are now part of America anyway… Better to ignore the fact that so many colonies didn’t want to fight because there were many more things at play besides the tax on tea and lack of representation.
      A little aside: What’s also left out of the history books is that the Native American nations were also invited to join the rebels to fight the British for independence. Some did, some didn’t. Again, in the South, the British were more willing to stay near the coast and not intrude too far into their land, while the colonists of Virginia and the Carolinas were constantly moving west and battling the tribes. In 1763, in the Treaty of Paris, at the end of the French and Indian war, the British had promised that colonists wouldn’t move west beyond the Appalachians, for a while at least, and when they did, it would be gradual and in an orderly fashion. Whenever Virginians encroached on Indian land and slaughtered Natives and destroyed their villages, the leaders complained to the British governor, and the British army usually stopped the colonists. It wasn’t in their interest to see the British go and be at the mercy of the American colonists.
      Also, the South in the 1860s didn’t want to have their own country the way the 13 colonies did in the 1770s. But to a degree he was right, so let me start there. In the 1770s, those 13 colonies wanted to handle their own business, without interference from Britain, and without being taxed and regulated by Britain. And their business included the slave trade from Africa and slavery within America. In England, in 1772, it was decided that slavery didn’t exist under British law, which meant nobody could be a slave in England. The colonies saw the writing on the wall and wanted to be independent before the British took their slaves away. Remember, Washington, Jefferson and Madison were all slave owners and the constitutional convention was held in South Carolina, which was the center of the African slave trade.
      The South, however, apart from slavery, was fine with the North also fighting the Native Americans to clear land for white settlers moving west into the Kansas and Nebraska territories in the 1800s, but then they insisted they become slave states while the North wanted them to be free states. So the South was going to fight to keep slavery, AND get those territories and make them slave states as well. And they were willing to break away from a country that was stronger together; they weren’t breaking away from an oversees empire. Not the same thing at all.
      Thanks for comment!

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