Lesson Plan: Overview

SC Black Codes: A Lesson on Reconstruction Legislation and Amendments

Grade Level: High School

SC House of Representatives Journal

Academic Standards

Standard USHC-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes and the course of the Civil War and Reconstruction in America.

Indicator USHC-4.4 Summarize the effects of Reconstruction on the Southern states and the roles of the 13th, 14th, & 15th Amendments in that area. 
Indicator USHC-4.5 Summarize the progress made by African-Americans during Reconstruction and subsequent reversals brought by Reconstruction’s end, including creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau, gains in educational and political opportunity, and the rise of anti-African-American factions and legislation. 
Social Studies Literacy Elements

D. Create and interpret data on time lines

E. Explain change and continuity over time
K. Use texts, photographs, and documents to observe and interpret social studies trends and relationships
L. Interpret calendars, time lines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, photographs, paintings, cartoons, architectural drawings, documents, letters, censuses, and other artifacts
N. Challenge ad hominem and other illogical arguments (e.g., name calling, personal attacks, insinuation and innuendo, circular arguments)
O. Consider multiple perspectives of documents and stories.
P. Locate, gather, and process information from a variety of primary and secondary sources including maps.
S. Interpret and synthesize information obtained from a variety of sources—graphs, charts, tables, diagrams, texts, photographs, documents, and interviews
Essential Questions
1. How did the Southern states respond to the societal alterations brought about by emancipation and the 13th Amendment?
2. Why did the Southern states feel that the Black Codes were necessary?
3. How did the 14th Amendment address the Black Codes?
4. Why was the 15th Amendment necessary?

Historical Background Notes

With the end of the Civil War came de facto emancipation of the slaves in the former Confederate states.  In the autumn of 1865, the ex-Confederate states ratified new state constitutions which included provisions banning slavery as a prerequisite for readmission to the USA.  However, four slave states (MO, KY, MD, and DE) had never seceded and therefore were under no compunction to emancipate their slaves.  The 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865 to emancipate all slaves in the USA.  It formally took effect in January 1866 (Bassett 1928, 30; Danzer, et al. 2005, 368).

The southern states were in economic and social chaos following the Civil War.  Famine, disease, extreme poverty, violent crime, and localized anarchy plagued the south.  The slaves were freed, but by and large they had no land, no money, no education, few skills, and no immediate prospects for dealing with those problems; whites exacerbated those problems by their unwillingness to cooperate equitably with former slaves.  White southern leaders in the autumn of 1865 sought to end the chaos and restore social, political, and economic stability.  One result was the “Black Codes” of December 1865, which were designed to restore the pre-1860 social order to the greatest extent possible without violating emancipation (Bassett 1928, 47-49; Danzer, et al. 2005, 379; Lander 1970, 8; Reynolds 1965, 27-34).

The northern states were enraged by the “Black Codes,” which were widely viewed in the north as an underhanded attempt by white southerners to undo the fruits of the north’s hard-won battlefield victories.  Before the ink was dry on the 13th Amendment, northerners were already calling for a federal solution to the southern “Black Codes.”  Finding that solution was complicated by the fact that nationwide emancipation had effectively cancelled the US Constitution’s three-fifths compromise of Article 1 Section 2 Clause 3; as a result, the Congressional power of the southern states would be significantly increased at a time when that power was in the hands of the same whites who had enacted the “Black Codes” (Bassett 1928, 51).

Congress’ initial attempt at blocking the black codes was the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which was vetoed by President Johnson on the grounds that Congress had exceeded its authority.  Congress voted to over-ride Johnson’s veto.  Congress then drafted the 14th Amendment, which would reduce the Congressional representation of any state which did not allow its African-American citizens to vote, but its ratification was blocked by the white southern governments the Amendment was designed to undermine (Bassett 1928, 51).

The elections of 1866 increased the power of the Congressional Republicans sufficiently that they were able to pass over Johnson’s veto the Reconstruction Act of 1867 which abolished the new southern state governments and imposed martial law.  The resulting “carpet-bagger” governments completed the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868 (Bassett 1928, 51, 57; Danzer, et al 2005., 380).

The 14th Amendment promised equality for all citizens, but its provisions of reduced representation for states that did not grant suffrage to minorities were insufficient to entice the governments of northern states with very small African-American populations to grant them suffrage.  To provide suffrage to northern African-Americans and to prevent any future southern governments from denying suffrage to minorities, the 15th Amendment was added in 1870 (Bassett 1928, 58-62).


Primary Sources

South Carolina House of Representatives.  An Act to Establish and Regulate the Domestic Relations of Persons of Color and Amend the Law in Relation to Paupers and Vagrancy.  General Assembly, 19 December 1865.  House Journal 269-285. (also known as SC Black Codes)

Secondary Sources

Bassett, John S.  Makers of a New Nation.  New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1928.


Danzer, Gerald A., J. Jorge Klor de Alva, Larry S. Krieger, Louis E. Wilson, and Nancy Woloch.  The Americans.  Evanston, IL:  McDougal Littell, 2005.


Lander, Ernest M. Jr.  A History of South Carolina, 1865-1960.  Columbia:  University of South Carolina Press, 1970.

Reynolds, John S.  Reconstruction in South Carolina 1865-1877.  1905. Reprint, New York:  Negro Universities Press, 1965.
Materials Needed
Copy of SC Black Codes
Copies of U.S. Constitution
Rubric for Writing Assignment

Lesson Plans

1. This lesson is one component of a unit on Reconstruction, which would be preceded by a separate unit on the Civil War.  Preceding lessons in this unit should address the political, economic, and social results of the Civil War in the summer of 1865; Andrew Johnson’s plan for Presidential Reconstruction; and the tensions between Johnson and Congress over the composition of the new southern state governments.  Succeeding lessons in this unit should address the imposition of martial law, the pervasive corruption associated with the military occupation governments, the use of African-American occupation troops, the rise of the KKK, sharecropping, the Compromise of 1877, the white restoration governments, and the overall results of Reconstruction.
2. Prior to this lesson, student desks should be arranged into groups of four to seven students per group.  A class set of copies of the Black Codes should be available so that each student can use one.  Students should each have their textbook, paper, and a pencil/pen. 
3. For an opening activity, have students open their textbooks to the US Constitution and locate and silently read Article 1 Section 2 Clause 3.
4. Use oral questioning to briefly review with the students the meaning of the “three-fifths compromise” of Article 1 Section 2 Clause 3.  Before proceeding, they should understand when counting a state’s population for purposes of adjusting the number of Congressmen that state could send to the US House of Representatives, only three-fifths of that state’s slave population would be counted.
5. Have students turn in their textbooks to the 13th Amendment and have one student stand and read it aloud.  Ask students from other groups to explain what the 13th Amendment means.  Before proceeding, students should understand that slavery was abolished.
6. Give students one minute in their groups to come up with one thing that ex-slaves could expect to do in 1866 that they had been unable to do in 1864, and how white southerners were likely to feel about that.  After one minute, have one person from each group briefly state their group’s findings, providing corrective guidance where necessary.
7. Have students refer to their copies of the Black Codes.  Explain that these laws were passed by white southerners in December 1865.  Assign each group sections of the Black Codes to read and summarize.  Circulate among students to keep them on task and help with vocabulary comprehension.  After no more than five minutes, have representatives of each group stand and provide a brief summation of what they read in their own words.  Provide corrective guidance where necessary.  After all groups are done, ask students who have not previously spoken to explain the overall intent of the Black Codes based on what they have heard.  Before proceeding, students should understand that the Black Codes were designed confine African-Americans to a life very similar to slavery.
8. Assign each group the job of ascertaining how one of the following groups would feel about the enactment of the Black Codes:  northern abolitionists; northern army veterans; widows of northern army soldiers; Republican members of Congress; African-American veterans of the northern army living in the south.  Allow them one minute to think, then have one person from each group stand and explain their findings.  Provide corrective guidance as necessary.  Before proceeding, students should understand that all those groups had reasons for opposing the Black Codes.
9. Use oral questioning to lead students into a discussion of how the 13th Amendment would affect Congressional representation.  Students should understand that its cancellation of the three-fifths compromise would result in white southerners having more influence in Congress than ever before. 
10. Have students turn in their textbooks to the 14th Amendment.  Assign each group to read and summarize one of the Amendment’s first four sections.  After no more than five minutes, have a representative of each group stand and explain their findings.  Provide corrective guidance as necessary.  Students should understand that:

Section 1 = all citizens, even minorities, have equal civil rights that must be respected by the state governments;

Section 2 = states that don’t let minorities vote will have their representation in Congress reduced proportionate to the number of men who were denied the right to vote;

Section 3 = ex-Confederates could not vote nor hold office unless pardoned by Congress (not by the President);

Section 4 = Confederate money was worthless and any money lent to support the Confederacy would not be paid back.
11. After explaining that African-Americans were not normally allowed to vote in northern states prior to 1868 due to pervasive racism, assign groups to consider the following about the 14th Amendment:

How would racist northern whites feel about Section 1?

How would southern whites feel about Section 3?

How might section 2 affect southern states differently from northern states?

How might northern white opposition to Sections 1 & 2 seem hypocritical?
12. After no more than one minute, have representatives from each group stand and explain their findings.  Provide corrective guidance as necessary.
13. Have a student stand and read Amendment 15 Section 1.  Use oral questioning to lead students in a discussion of why the 15th Amendment was necessary.  Students should understand that it denied states the option of denying voting rights to minorities and ensured that northern African-Americans would be allowed to vote.
14. Have each group produce a quick sketch of a step-by-step flow chart showing the progression of cause and effect from the end of the Civil War through the ratification of the 15th Amendment.  After no more than 5 minutes, have a representative of each group come to the board and draw their group’s flowchart on the board.  Lead students in a critique of one another’s work until a consensus is achieved regarding what the flow chart should look like.
15. Provide a brief oral conclusion to the lesson by explaining that the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments are the basis of our modern understanding of civil rights, and that they were the legal foundation of the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s.
16. For homework, have students produce a neat and complete flow chart of the progression of cause and effect from the end of the Civil War to the ratification of the 15th Amendment.  Also have them write a creative paragraph describing their life as a 50 year old African-American man living in modern South Carolina if the 14th and 15th Amendments had never been passed and there had never been a successful civil rights movement.

Teacher Reflections

Prior to taking this course, the way I normally employed lengthy primary sources was restricted to using them in my own research and providing students with only the distilled facts relevant to the lesson at hand.  The exceptions were quotes, pictures, and political cartoons, which are built into nearly all of my lessons.  However, the development of my TAHSC lessons has introduced me to the process of integrating longer primary sources into small group activities.

Due to the wide variety in reading capabilities among my students and the generally unsatisfactory nature thereof, I found that longer primary sources worked best when broken down into smaller bites for individuals to peruse before engaging in group-wide discussions.  Providing strict time requirements and specific instructions for what students were expected to do before being responsible for presenting group information helped keep students focused on the primary source and helped minimize the difference in output from faster and slower groups while accommodating their attention spans, which seemingly rival that of a goldfish at times.  During their group activity times, I must continuously move through the room to keep groups on task and up to speed.  I found that by using all of these techniques combined, I could get the students to digest the meaning and consequence of the primary source in question.  I found that the best way to imprint the gist of the primary source onto their long-term memory was to assign them a creative writing task involving how they would respond to the situation described in the source.  The students seemed to enjoy my TAHSC lessons as a break from the normal routine, and judging from their creative writing, most learned something from the process of personalizing the information.

My first TAHSC lesson was about the Black Codes of the early Reconstruction era.  The lesson’s strength was the ease with which teenagers, who are constantly aware of what they perceive to be limitations on their freedoms, could identify with the extreme unreasonableness of the restrictions embodied in the Black Codes.  The lesson’s weakness was my own over-planning, which resulted in on the spot deletion of portions of the lesson on the day I taught it for the first time.  As it stands, the lesson would probably work well in a block class, but is too long for a fifty minute period.

Student Assessments

Grade the creative writing assignment as homework using the rubric provided.


Denny Ferrell
Lowcountry Institute