Since the early 1800s, many laws in both North and South discriminated systematically against free Blacks. In the South, "slave codes" placed significant restrictions on Black Americans who were not themselves slaves. A major purpose of these laws was maintenance of the system of white supremacy that made slavery possible.
With legal prohibitions of slavery ordered by the Emancipation Proclamation, acts of state legislature, and eventually the Thirteenth Amendment, Southern states adopted new laws to regulate Black life. Although these laws had different official titles, they were (and are) commonly known as Black Codes. (The term originated from "negro leaders and the Republican organs" according to Confederate historian John S. Reynolds.) The defining feature of the Black Codes was vagrancy law which allowed local authorities to arrest the freedpeople and commit them to involuntary labor.“Slave codes” in the antebellum South contained more regulations of free Blacks than of slaves themselves. Chattel slaves basically lived under the complete control of their owners; non-slaves presented more of a challenge to the boundaries of White-dominated society. Black Codes in the antebellum South heavily regulated what people could do. Blacks could not assemble, bear arms, become literate, speak freely, or testify against White people in Court. These regulations intensified during the 1800s, intensifying after Nat Turner's insurrection of 1831, and culminating in the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision of 1857. Restrictions on manumission and freedom of movement placed tighter and tigher restrictions on what Black people could do.