The Success And Failure Of A Reconstruction Era
1865 marked the end of the American Civil War resulting in the emancipation of African Americans with the thirteenth amendment. Although they were freed from slavery, the period after the Civil War was still very difficult for African Americans as they faced economic and political oppression. They had many many new found aspirations but unfortunately, there were still many whites who would attempt to deny African Americans of their aspirations especially through physical violence. African American tried their best to overcome this oppression by using tools such as voting, writing, and education. One of the main tactics whites used to oppress African Americans during this period was by the use of political terrorism especially lynchings to reestablish white supremacy. Lynching is when a person is killed by a mob for an alleged offense without a trial. This took the form of different violence but the majority of them were hangings as well as burning them alive.
In 1868, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was formed in Tennessee; they were a white supremacist group who used various types of violence to suppress the freedoms of African Americans. Abram Colby was a former slave who served in the Georgia house of representatives; the KKK did not like the fact that a black man held a political office so they beat and killed him. His death was a warning to other African Americans in the south to stay out of politics. There have been many cases where white people used violence to enforce white supremacy. In a testimony by Charlotte Fowler, she recounts how her home was broken into in the middle of the night by masked men and killed an old man, about seventy years old, just because he had voted for the radical party (p. 43). They didn’t care about the age or gender of those they attacked. In another testimony, John Childers from Alabama recounts how his seven-year-old daughter was whipped to death. Childers then explains how he and other blacks had received many threats from whites, “I have had threats if we all would vote the democratic ticket we would be well thought of, and the white men of the country… would protect us… for fear, I voted it myself. I voted the Democratic ticket” (p. 43-44).
The KKK and other whites in the south wanted to maintain Democrat control of the south so they would threaten the lives of blacks scaring them into either voting Democrat or not voting at all. One of the ways African Americans fought oppression was by writing, spreading awareness of all the horrible things that were going on. An example of this would be Ida B. Wells who wrote a pamphlet on the atrocious acts of lynchings against black people. Wells was born in Mississippi and she had witnessed her own friend being lynched giving her a personal motive to spread awareness of lynchings. She explains how white people use violence against African Americans because they are scared of them and it is the only way that they can control them as well as to supress their political power and attempt to re-establish white supremacy. African Americans had many visions of freedom after the results of the events of the Civil War. Freedom of religion, education, political freedom, and land and labor were the main aspirations of African Americans.
Jourdon Anderson writes in a letter to his old master, Colonel Anderson stating “I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy… And the children…go to school and are learning well” (p. 40). In his letter, Jourdon explains to his old master the reasons why he does not want to go back to working for him as his life is a lot better now that he is free. Anderson’s family is now treated kindly, they get reasonably decent wages, and their children now get the education they deserve. This is the type of quality of life African Americans in the reconstruction period desired to attain and they wouldn’t give it up for any reason. African American communities started to promote the value of education. Education was even being promoted by the federal government through the Freedman’s Bureau. The Freedman’s Bureau was created as a type of welfare system to help African Americans transition from being slaves to freedmen, they help build schools allowing African Americans to receive education from elementary school to as far as university level. There were a significant amount of white women, particularly single women, who come down from the north to teach in black schools.
Their fathers and brothers had fought for the freedom of African Americans during the civil war so they felt that it was now their turn to help them in any way they could. One of the greatest opposition of the Freedman’s Bureau was President Andrew Johnson who believed that the objectives of the Bureau went against the States’ rights so he vetoed its recharter in 1866, but fortunately, Congress managed to override his veto and the Freedmen’s Bureau lasted for another five years.
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