African Americans in the Post–Civil War Era Questions and Answers

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Why was working for wages resisted by ex-slaves struggling for freedom after emancipation?

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Ex-slaves resisted working for wages after emancipation for several reasons.  One reason was the former slaves were used to having all of their basic needs taken care of by the plantation owner.  As long as they had been alive, they didn’t have to worry about these needs. Some former slaves preferred to have this arrangement continue after being freed.  Since the former slaves had no experience in buying food, getting clothing, as well as locating and securing a place to live, it was easier for them to stay on the plantation and work there in exchange for having their basic needs covered.  Also, many former slaves had no idea what a good wage would be for their labor.  Additionally, some plantation owners told the former slaves they were not free to leave.  Since the slaves had been used to following orders their entire life, many continued to believe in and listen to the planation owners.  Furthermore, many slaves found life to be very difficult after being freed.  In some cases, white landowners wouldn’t rent them land. In other cases, the sharecropping system kept some former slaves in a slavery-like condition (because of the constant debt), that some slaves preferred to work on plantations, not for pay, but for having their needs taken care of by the plantation owners. There were several reasons why former slaves resisted working for wages after they were freed.

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