The Law and Economics of Post-Civil War: Restrictions on Interstate Migration By African-Americans

  • Author(s): David Bernstein
  • Date Posted: 1996
  • Law & Economics #: 96-03
  • Availability: Citation only


In the decades after the Civil War, southern states attempted to prevent African-Americans from migrating by passing emigrant agent laws. These laws essentially banned interstate labor recruitment. The Supreme Court upheld emigrant agent laws in the little-known case of Williams v. Fears in 1900. The history of emigrant agent laws provides evidence that: (1) state action played a larger role in discrimination against African-Americans than is generally acknowledged; (2) laissez-faire jurisprudence was potentially helpful to disenfranchised African-Americans; and (3) the federalist structure of the U.S. provided African-Americans with opportunities to improve their lot through internal migration.