After emancipation, how did ex-slaves exercise their new freedoms, and how did white southerners attempt to limit them?

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pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After the Civil War, many former slaves searched for missing family members who were either sold or displaced by the war. Many former slaves took advantage of their new freedom of movement and traveled to other towns in the South. Others moved West and North in search of better treatment and work. Former slaves also sought out educational opportunities through the Freedmen's Bureau and by taking advantage of the new primary schools being erected in the South. While many former slaves did not leave the plantation, many sought out sharecropper relationships in which they hoped to one day obtain a plot of land of their own, but, in most cases, the sharecropper system resulted in generational poverty. Many former slaves also voted and many ran successfully for public office.

Many whites in the South were not in favor of these social changes. Former slaves were often required by cities to carry passes while they traveled or else be charged with vagrancy and then being put to work in a chain gang as punishment. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White League persecuted former slaves who tried to learn how to read and better themselves through the electoral process. The hate groups also targeted whites who tried to help the former slaves. The sharecropper system took advantage of its source of labor by keeping black families poor and perpetually in debt to the owners of the plantation. Reconstruction officials were often complicit in this discrimination, by forcing former slaves to work the cotton crop instead of encouraging them to plant more useful, yet less profitable food crops. In the latter stages of Reconstruction and in the post-Reconstruction era, Southern whites also instituted poll taxes and literacy tests in order to keep former slaves away from the polls. These did not affect poor whites who were protected by "grandfather clauses," which stated that one could vote as long as one's grandfather was eligible. Finally, segregation became both law and custom in the South as a way to try to maintain social control over former slaves and their descendants.

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After the slaves were freed, they did many things with the new freedom they had received. Unfortunately, white southerners tried to limit these freedoms.

Once the slaves were freed after the Civil War ended, they pursued a variety of activities. Some former slaves returned to their birthplace, while others went to look for family members from whom they were separated. A number of freed slaves traveled, while others formally married. Finally, some former slaves were involved in building their own churches and schools. Some also became involved in politics and ran for political office.

White southerners weren’t pleased with these changes. After the Civil War ended, southern states passed the black codes. One example of a black code was that former slaves needed to prove they were employed. After Reconstruction ended, white southerners began to regain control of the state and the local governments. They passed laws that separated the races. Blacks and whites weren’t allowed to sit in the same train cars. They had separate bathrooms and separate drinking fountains. White southerners tried to prevent African-Americans from voting. Laws were passed requiring people to pass literacy tests and pay poll taxes in order to vote. People were exempt from these restrictions if their father or grandfather had voted before 1867. These grandfather clauses allowed whites to vote while denying the vote to many African-Americans because their fathers or grandfathers weren’t allowed to vote before 1867. Finally, hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan formed. They threatened, intimidated, harassed, and killed African-Americans.

While African-Americans gained some freedoms after the Civil War ended, white southerners worked hard to restrict those freedoms.