Was Reconstruction after the civil war a success or failure? why?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You will probably get a variety of responses to this inquiry; however most historians believe that Reconstruction was a failure. Although Black Americans were no longer slaves, they made little progress in other areas.

The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were passed during Reconstruction, designed to make Black Americans citizens of the United States, guarantee them civil liberties, and also guarantee them the right to vote. Military governments were instituted in the South to protect the rights of former slaves. However, this did not stop southern legislatures from enacting "Jim Crow Laws," successors to the former Black Codes, which prohibited Blacks from equal access to many facilities. The following are examples:

All persons licensed to conduct a restaurant, shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to the two races within the same room or serve the two races anywhere under the same license.

It shall be unlawful for colored people to frequent any park owned or maintained by the city for the benefit, use and enjoyment of white persons...and unlawful for any white person to frequent any park owned or maintained by the city for the use and benefit of colored persons.

Every employer of white or negro males shall provide for such white or negro males reasonably accessible and separate toilet facilities.

All circuses, shows, and tent exhibitions, to which the attendance of...more than one race is invited or expected to attend shall provide for the convenience of its patrons not less than two ticket offices with individual ticket sellers, and not less than two entrances to the said performance, with individual ticket takers and receivers, and in the case of outside or tent performances, the said ticket offices shall not be less than twenty-five (25) feet apart.

The right to vote was infringed with abandon, often by requiring one to read and correctly interpret a portion of the state constitution (whites were given a much simpler task, if at all, than Blacks;) requiring one to pay a poll tax, establishing difficult residency requirements, and listing a series of crimes believed to be common among the Black populace as disqualifications for voting.

When Reconstruction ended in 1877, the determination of white Southerners to deny civil rights to Blacks won out over the efforts of the federal government to ensure them.