What were the effects of Reconstruction on the freed slaves?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The freed slaves’ lives changed dramatically during the Reconstruction period.  However, it is not clear how much of the change was actually brought about by Reconstruction and how much was brought about by the simple fact that they were free.

To illustrate this, let us look at the social changes that came about in the South.  With freedom, African Americans now had the chance to set up their own families without fear of being forcibly separated.  They were able to set up their own churches because there were no longer any laws against meetings of African Americans.  They were able to set up schools because it was no longer against the law to educate an African American.  But how much did Reconstruction actually affect these things?  Of course, the coming of freedom made them possible, but that is not really the same things as Reconstruction.  Most of the schools for blacks were set up by the federal government during Reconstruction, but the government had very little to do with allowing blacks to have churches, families, and fraternal organizations.

Economically, it is hard to say if Reconstruction had an effect.  Blacks generally ended up poor and economically powerless by the end of Reconstruction.  But is this an effect of Reconstruction?  Reconstruction authorities did little to even try to empower blacks economically.  They tried to establish contracts between black workers and land owners, for example, but they failed to enforce these contracts.  So, is the poverty and powerlessness at the end of Reconstruction an effect of Reconstruction?  It depends on your definition.

There were certainly tremendous changes that came about in the years after the Civil War, but it is hard to say how much these changes were effects of Reconstruction.

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