In 1872 a Black legislator in Louisiana, J. Henri Burch, successfully introduced a “homestead law”, which operated as an exemption law, “prevent[ing] a person from taking [from] any labor[er] – white or colored, it made no difference – any of his implements – that is, his horse, his wagon, his stock, his wife’s furniture, and such as that – to the value of six hundred dollars.” With Redemption, the Democratic legislature repealed the act, “on of the first laws they repealed,” said Burch. As a result, “there is nothing safe for the laborer now, if [the landlord] chooses to move upon him and take away his goods and implements of agriculture.”6
- 6 J. Henri Burch, Senate Report 693, II: 219-20
- P.37, Exodusters – Nell Irvin Painter, ISBN 0-393-00951-3
You were a slave. You got legal freedom, but you have little to no options so now you are working for your previous slave-master.
Your previous slave-master / new boss probably wants to charge you to rent the tools to pick the cotton, in addition to you now renting a little shack to live in. So you save up your money, you buy your own tools, but lets say you have a bad crop. You don’t get as much cotton as you expected. Maybe you picked the necessary amount of cotton but the “boss” (slave-master) decided he’s gonna pay you less per pound this season, but what he’s charging you for rent is still the same or sometimes more.
So, either way you don’t make your rent. He takes you to court. With the “Homestead Law” your “boss” (slave-master) could not take your tools up to the value of $600. As I’m understanding it, your debt had to be over $600 for them to be able to take your tools, I’m assuming. With the period called “Redemption” they eliminate that law. So now your old slave-master can also take your tools as well. So you come up short $10 dollars and he takes a shovel. Next crop you come up short $100 he takes your horses or tractor or whatever. Basically he could nickle-and-dime you out of all your tools. Effectively leaving you with absolutely nothing once again except more debt and less ability to work for yourself or someone else.
According to BLS.gov’s inflation calculator, which only goes as far back as 1913, six hundred dollars was similar to fourteen-thousand today. In other words, that law was a big protection to give former slaves just a small possibility to get ahead financially.