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How did Reconstruction affect African-Americans?

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Deborah Sheldon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The period in American history after the Civil War has come to be called Reconstruction. After the 13th through 15th Amendments freed African-Americans and gave them the rights of citizenship, many new opportunities existed. Black people were granted the right to vote, and took advantage of that right to elect people of color into the state legislatures. Schools were opened and freed slaves of all ages and abilities took advantage of the opportunity of education. African-Americans had the freedom to leave the South if they so desired. Many moved to Kansas and others moved to urban areas in the North. While the movement of black people at this time was not as significant as what was witnessed after World War I, the fact that this group had the choice to move was significant. Former slaves also had the option of working for their former masters. Many went this route, but now they would receive wages. After three centuries of servitude on the plantations, black people were wage earners. They could save money, in theory, and purchase land. Black people also used their freedoms to create their own institutions. This is especially true of religion where new churches were established. Black institutes of learning were built during the period, including the Tuskegee Institute. There was a certain excitement amongst freed slaves at this time that happens when you realize that you are the masters of your own destiny. This optimism, however, would come to a crashing halt in 1877. A deal was struck with the rulers of the South to put an end to Reconstruction. Many of the gains black people realized were stripped from the freedman. Black codes were passed to subjugate black people to an inferior status. The Ku Klux Klan was allowed to terrorize black people and poll taxes took the voting rights away from the freedman. It was a sad ending to what started as a promising era for the newly enfranchised African-American.

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