On this dayDec 19, 1865

South Carolina Enacted Law Requiring Contracts to Refer to White People as "Masters"

On December 19, 1865, South Carolina passed a law that forced recently emancipated Black citizens into subservient social relationships with white landowners, stating that “all persons of color who make contracts for service or labor, shall be known as servants, and those with whom they contract, shall be known as masters.”

Following the Civil War and emancipation, many freed Black people in the South remained subjugated by their former white enslavers. In South Carolina and other former slaveholding states, many freed people continued to reside in the same communities, sometimes on the same land, working for white people who had previously claimed they "owned" them as property. Freedmen had limited opportunities to earn money to support themselves and their families and often continued to work as manual laborers in slavery-like conditions. Black Codes enacted following emancipation sought to maintain white control over freedmen and perpetuated the exploitation Black people had experienced during slavery.

South Carolina's Black Codes, like others, contained many laws that applied only to Black people. The new law passed on this day required Black “servants” to work from dawn to dusk and to maintain a “polite” demeanor. South Carolina reached even further into Black laborers’ personal lives, prohibiting apprentices to marry without their masters’ permission, forbidding farmers living on their masters’ land to have visitors, and imposing a curfew. Another Black Code sought to restrict the upward mobility of the Black community by forbidding freedmen in South Carolina from pursuing any occupation other than laborer unless able to pay a $100 fee.

About EJI

The Equal Justice Initiative works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality.

Learn more

About this website

Until we confront our history of racial injustice and its legacy, we cannot overcome the racial bias that exists today.

Learn more

Explore more events