On this dayNov 22, 1865

Mississippi Authorizes “Sale” of Black Orphans to White "Masters or Mistresses"

Library of Congress

On November 22, 1865, the Mississippi legislature passed “An Act to regulate the relation of master and apprentice, as relates to freedmen, free negroes, and mulattoes.” Under the law, sheriffs, justices of the peace, and other county civil officers were authorized and required to identify all minor Black children in their jurisdictions who were orphans or whose parents could not properly care for them. Once identified, the local probate court was required to “apprentice” Black children to white “masters or mistresses” until age 18 for girls and age 21 for boys.

After the physical and economic devastation of the Civil War, Southern states faced the daunting task of rebuilding their infrastructures and economies. At the same time, the young white male population had been drastically reduced by war-time casualties and emancipation had freed the formerly enslaved Black labor that had largely built the entire region. In response, some Southern state legislatures passed race-specific laws to establish new forms of labor relations between Black workers and white “employers” that complied with the letter of the law, but actually sought to recreate the enslaver-enslaved conditions of involuntary servitude that existed prior to emancipation.

Though the law did not require white "employers" to pay the children they "hired" a wage, the law did require them to pay the county a fee for the apprentice arrangement. The law claimed to require white “masters” to provide their apprentices with education, medical care, food, and clothing, but it also re-instituted many of the more notorious features of slavery. The children's former enslavers were given first opportunity to hire those formerly enslaved by them, for example. In addition, the law authorized white "masters" to “re-capture” any apprentice who left their employment without consent and threatened children with criminal punishment for refusing to return to work.

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