African American soldiers played a significant role in the final outcome of the Civil War. Thousands served in both the Union Army and Navy despite significant prejudice, lower pay and the threat of almost certain death if captured by the enemy. Many Confederate leaders threatened to kill any captured African American soldiers on site in hopes of dissuading former slaves from running away and swelling northern ranks. Famed units like the 54th Massachusetts showed that African Americans soldiers were just as capable as whites, helping to dispel rumors of inferiority. By the end of the war in 1865, more than 10% of Union forces were soldiers of color.
After the war, newly freed slaves sought to claim their newly won rights. With the help of the Freedman’s Bureau, African-Americans began voting and getting elected to state and federal offices. These leaders helped improve education, bargaining rights and civil rights for all free blacks in the south. Black churches in the north, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church helped raise awareness and funds to support their newly freed brothers in the south.