How did Southerners try to reclaim the Old South ways of life during Reconstruction?

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osurpless | Middle School Teacher | In Training Educator

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Southern states worked to reclaim their way of life using systemic slavery-like practices on the newly freed African American citizens. This was done first and foremost on the federal level by demonizing northern officials and businessmen who came to assist the free men while profiting off laws designed to rightly punish business in the South due to the rebellion. While some people were undoubtedly carpetbaggers and scalawags, the accusations of the South that all visitors were like this is not unlike their unique insights into the African race...

Scalawags were especially offensive, as they were seen to be betrayers of the cause in their cooperation with the Republicans in Congress. Beliefs of personal victimhood during the unification of the country likely contributed to the development of the Lost Cause movement later in the 19th century as well. The founding of the KKK during the era of Reconstruction also terrorized and undermined black efforts to assert themselves, more so after the Klan went underground becoming domestic terrorists.

While what can be defined as the "way of life " in the South is imprecise, one aspect that was very clear was the oppression of black citizens under what became known as Jim Crow Laws. Poll taxes, literacy tests and the grandfather clause all were designed to essentially reinstitute slavery in all but name. This resulted in the black race being sufficiently downtrodden, arguably even worse off than they were during the days of slavery. Sharecropping was one of the few professions available as a result. The conditions were familiar to ex-slaves as well.

It is no surprise that African Americans would later leave the South in the Great Migration to the North looking for opportunity and rights, especially following the Election of 1876, whose disputed outcome and eventual compromise lead to removal of federal troops from the South, ending the Reconstruction and beginning what was essentially the nadir for the black race in America to this day. While the Southern way of life would never be quite as it was in the ante-bellum days, it was perhaps the closest it could be until the Civil Rights Movement.

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