How critical was the failure of land redistribution for blacks? Was sharecropping an acceptable substitute for achieving economic freedom? Why or why not?
In the early days of Reconstruction the Freedman's Bureau made the dream of land ownership a reality for many of the newly-freed slaves. Radical Republicans understood that the formal freedom of the Fourteenth Amendment needed to be supplemented by the substantive economic freedom that widespread land ownership among African-Americans would bring.
However, by 1872, public support for Reconstruction was on the wane, and with it the necessary political will in Washington to keep the policy alive. Under pressure from Southerners in Congress the government quietly dismantled the Freedmen's Bureau, effectively leaving African-Americans at the mercy of white supremacists in the South, who didn't believe they should've been freed in the first place, let alone granted land.
Gradually, much of the land that had been granted to African-Americans was taken from them by Southern legislatures. Instead, they had to make do with sharecropping, a system where the landlord allows tenants to work the land in exchange for a share of the crop.
In practice, sharecropping turned out to be slavery by another name. The system effectively tied black laborers to specific plots of land, as they had to stay put in order to generate the biggest harvest possible, thus maximizing their share of the crop. This discouraged agricultural laborers from seeking opportunities elsewhere.
White landlords further tightened their grip on black tenants by keeping them severely indebted. They would lease equipment to their tenants as well as offering food, fertilizer, seed, and other items on credit until the next harvest season. In the vast majority of cases, black sharecroppers would be unable to pay back what they owed, ensuring that they had no choice but to continue working for their white landlords.