Did the Civil War and Reconstruction (1860-1876) change life in the United States for African-Americans?
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The Civil War and Reconstruction clearly changed life for African Americans. However, just as clearly, those events did not change African Americans’ lives fundamentally enough to bring them into anything like equality with whites.
We should not underestimate the importance of the Civil War for African Americans. This war freed them from slavery. While it takes few words to say this, it is surely very difficult for us to understand how profoundly important this change was. Before the war, most African Americans were property. Their masters could do essentially anything they wanted with these human beings. To be freed from such bondage was surely more important than we can imagine.
However, Reconstruction did not do much to add to the quality of African Americans’ lives. Most importantly, it did not give them any way to be economically independent or politically important. After Reconstruction, they were still working for white people, often in semi-bondage brought about by things like sharecropping. After Reconstruction, they had very little in the way of political rights. This means that Reconstruction failed to continue the improvement of their lives that had started with emancipation after the Civil War.
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