Were African-Americans free during Reconstruction?
The answer to this question depends on how one defines the word "freedom." African-Americans in the South were free in the sense that they were no longer enslaved. Slavery was formally abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment at the end of the Civil War. One might also argue that African-American men, at least, enjoyed a measure of political freedom during part of Reconstruction as they gained the right to vote in most states. In many areas, African-American sheriffs, legislators, and other political officials were put in office. But the end of Reconstruction brought an end to large-scale political participation, as Southern states enacted poll taxes, literacy tests, and other measures intended to disfranchise African-Americans. They also experienced the rise of Jim Crow laws that rigidly segregated Southern society. But throughout Reconstruction, most African-American people never experienced freedom in the sense that many of them understood it. For many black men in particular, freedom meant land ownership and the ability to provide for one's own family. Reconstruction, through its failure (or unwillingness) to enact land reforms, never made this possible, and the majority of African-American families lived meager existences as sharecroppers. So "freedom" was a relative term.
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