Hardships for African Americans living in the United States were far from over when slavery was abolished in 1865. The Civil War might have ended, and the final decision on the legality of slavery had been made, but in some ways, the lives of African Americans continued on as they...
Hardships for African Americans living in the United States were far from over when slavery was abolished in 1865. The Civil War might have ended, and the final decision on the legality of slavery had been made, but in some ways, the lives of African Americans continued on as they had before.
During Reconstruction, or the era directly following the Civil War, the United States struggled to rebuild itself. The majority of African Americans stayed in the South when the war ended, but most white Southerners were not happy about the decision to abolish slavery. They fought the advancement of African Americans during the Reconstruction at every step, and had a president whose laws helped to support their views.
Much power was given to the Southern states to decide how African Americans were treated, against the wishes of the citizens of the Northern states. Southern white government officials, often former leaders of the Confederacy, developed Black Codes, or strictures which sought to temper the freedom of African Americans. Black Codes prevented African Americans from voting and from being part of a jury, and this left them with very limited power. Because little advancement could be made by African Americans under Black Codes, both social and economic disparities continued throughout Reconstruction. When the last federal troops withdrew from the South, freed African Americans remained in much the same position as they had before slavery was abolished.
As Reconstruction ended, the Southern states created more formal state and local laws which strained against the power of federal laws. At the federal level, slaves had civil rights protections, but these state and local laws, now known as "Jim Crow laws," were the Southern states' effort to keep African American citizens from obtaining the full rights and protections that they should have had under the Constitution.
The Jim Crow laws which required that voters pay a "poll tax" and pass literacy tests effectively curtailed the political influence of African Americans by suppressing their ability to vote. These laws, to me, were some of the most influential and detrimental Jim Crow laws that were made, as they affected every aspect of African Americans' lives. Without the ability to vote, African Americans had no voice in how they were governed. This created a vicious cycle wherein no economic or educational gains could be made. Without enough of an education to be able to read well, and with little money for a "poll tax," it seemed these voter suppression laws would never end.
The second set of Jim Crow laws that I believe most negatively affected African Americans were the laws passed that enforced absolute segregation. These laws, which were created to keep segregation in place without violating federal provisions for African Americans, often cited "separate but equal" spaces. From classrooms to bathrooms, African Americans were kept from using the same facilities as white people. This, of course, led to African Americans suffering in a multitude of ways. African American facilities rarely had the funding that white-only facilities had. Because of these segregation laws and the disparity in funding they created, African American students were not afforded the same educations as their white peers, and they continued to struggle economically because they couldn't compete with their white counterparts who had received more extensive educations. This created another cycle of poverty and financial hardships for African Americans.
Sadly, Jim Crow laws so heavily infiltrated the lives of African Americans that their economic and social struggles still continue to this day, in spite of the fact that these laws have long since been overturned and abolished.