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Many black Americans fought in the Civil War, even before the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Over ten percent of all forces fighting for the Union were black. The most famous unit was the Massachusetts 54th Regiment which attacked the Confederate Fort Wagner at James Island South Carolina unsuccessfully. The unit was commanded by a white officer, Robert Gould Shaw, who was killed at the engagement. Resentment among whites both north and south was intense, particularly in the South, where the confederate Congress passed an act which made it a capital offense for slaves to fight for the union cause. In one instance, a black soldier saw his old owner who was a prisoner of war. Upon approaching the man, he said
Hello, Massa, bottom rail on top now.
In the South, although some few slaves remained loyal to their owners, many others ran away or murdered the remaining members of the household if the master were away at war.
After the war, although slavery was ended, freedmen had precious few economic opportunities. Most became sharecroppers working for their old masters on land which they rented in exchange for a share of the profits of the crop. Their subsitence level remained minimal and southern political leaders made every effort to prevent their attaining the civil rights to which they were entitled.
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