In 1865, former Confederate General Robert Richardson remarked that “the emancipated slaves own nothing but freedom, because nothing but freedom has been given to them.” Discuss and explain...

In 1865, former Confederate General Robert Richardson remarked that “the emancipated slaves own nothing but freedom, because nothing but freedom has been given to them.” Discuss and explain whether this would be an accurate assessment of Reconstruction in 1877.

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pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, this is so true, and Eric Foner in his book about Reconstruction says the same thing.  African-Americans could not vote until 1870, and they were not even citizens until 1868.  They could not serve on juries, and many of them could not even read and had to rely on organizations such as the Freedmen's Bureau for their education and healthcare.  Racism still existed in the South, and many landowners took advantage of a bad situation by keeping the former slaves as impoverished sharecroppers who were technically free, but they owed so much money for their housing and tools that they could never leave.  Poor whites suffered the same way.  While I am not discounting freedom, as in 1865 the freeing of the slaves was a landmark event in American history; however, there was no set plan for assimilation, and it was a minority of a minority of abolitionists such as Frederick Douglas and Thaddeus Stevens who considered granting them full civil rights.  Even Lincoln was in favor of starting a freedmen's colony in Central America or the Caribbean or even sending the former slaves back to Africa.  While things were better in 1877 as technically the former slaves could vote, after the army left the South states passed laws such as poll taxes and literacy tests to keep the former slaves from voting.  There was also discrimination in employment as well.  There were also chronic attacks of white supremacist groups that happened in the South for the next hundred years, and lynching would be a major issue in the South and West. Conditions improved between 1865 and 1877, but not by much.