Were African Americans free during Reconstruction?

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During Reconstruction, African Americans were freed from formal slavery, however, they still faced endemic discrimination and structural limitations on their freedom.

For instance, the Black Codes were a series of discriminatory laws enacted by Southern states in the aftermath of the Civil War. They enumerated a variety of petty offenses that, in practice, applied only to African Americans. Violation of these laws were penalized through convict labor in which prisoners would be leased to private companies— often in agriculture—for field work. This essentially perpetuated an informal type of slavery.

Finally, many Southern states also restricted African-American participation in civic life through the prohibition of their service on juries, through poll taxes as a condition of voting, and through racial segregation within public institutions and areas.

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African-Americans were free during Reconstruction. All states had to ratify the 13th amendment that ended slavery. This was a condition for these states to rejoin the United States. However, there were attempts to restrict this freedom during Reconstruction. For example, many states passed laws called the black codes. These laws restricted some of the freedoms of the former slaves. For example, unemployed former slaves could be arrested and fined, and they would have to work for white employers to pay off the fines. Many white landowners wouldn’t rent land to former slaves. Some former slaves weren’t hired and were denied credit at stores. The system of sharecropping kept many former slaves in slavery-like conditions. Also, they were constantly in debt. Finally, the Ku Klux Klan formed. This group terrorized the former slaves. Thus, while slavery ended when the Civil War ended, many former slaves weren’t free economically and politically. They were free, but in reality, that freedom was very limited in some places during Reconstruction.

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