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During Reconstruction, numerous attempts were made by white supremacists in the South to keep Blacks as near to slavery as possible. These so called "Jim Crow Laws" often used rather devious methods to prohibit Blacks from voting, sitting on juries, or holding public office. Among the more durable obstacles that prevented black advancement was the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Plessy vs, Ferguson which affirmed that separate facilities for Blacks and Whites did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment as long as those facilities were "equal," hence the doctrine of "Separate but Equal."
Blacks were elected to public office in the South, even to Congress during Reconstruction, but their progress in shaping their destiny through the period was often stymied. Their greatest gains came on the heels of the end of Reconstruction through the work of two men: Booker T. Washington, who had been born a slave, and founded the Tuskegee Institute. He advised Blacks to work where they were to improve their station in life; and not resist the law. Later, W.E.B. DuBois, who was born during Reconstruction but was later educated at Harvard, said the key to improvement was education and enfranchisement. He opposed the pacifistic attitudes of Washington, and insisted that segregation must be ended immediately. He was instrumental in founding the NAACP which used legal means to secure rights for Blacks. During Reconstruction itself, Blacks were unable to make substantial strides in the South because Southern Whites opposed them every step of the way.
We can look at two different kinds of ways in which African Americans took an active role in shaping their destinies during the Reconstruction era.
First, there was involvement in government. Many African Americans were part of Reconstruction era state governments. In that capacity, they helped to do things like creating the state constitutions that were supposed to govern the states in which they would live.
Second, there were less formal ways of shaping their destinies. This involved building a uniquely African American community. African Americans created things like black churches and black fraternal organizations. By doing these sorts of things, they created the building blocks of a society that would sustain them during the long years of Jim Crow and other forms of discrimination.
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