African Americans in the Post–Civil War Era

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How did the Reconstruction period impact the lives of newly freed southern African Americans?

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Reconstruction had mixed effects on southern African Americans. Initially, Reconstruction gave African Americans the right to vote. However, the right to vote was later curtailed through the Black Codes, poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and literacy tests. 

African Americans were granted the right to an education. Landowners apportioned some land to African Americans to provide them with an opportunity to generate food and incomes. However, the arrangement ensured that African Americans remained in perpetual poverty. Between paying the landowners and their creditors, African Americans were left with meager incomes. The situation forced some of them to move to cities seeking employment. However, the Black Codes prevented African Americans from holding certain jobs. 

African Americans were not allowed to mix with whites due to segregation laws and all services and amenities extended to them were below par.

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Reconstruction had some positive and some negative effects on the newly freed southern African Americans. The effects depend on if Reconstruction is viewed in the long run or the short run.

In the short run, African Africans gained more freedoms. African American males were able to vote and hold political offices. The Freedmen’s Bureau helped African Americans adjust to freedom. Schools were established, and African Americans received food, clothing, and medical care. The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to people born in the United States, and the rights of citizenship could not be taken away without due process. The 15th amendment prevented the loss of voting rights based on color or if a person had been a slave.

In the long run, many of the improvements that occurred during Reconstruction were removed. African Americans often were prevented from voting with the establishment of poll taxes and literacy tests. Jim Crow laws were passed that legalized segregation. Many African Americans remained poor and in debt. Additionally, the attitudes of many southerners toward the African Americans remained unchanged. African Americans were not viewed as equal to white southerners. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan formed to terrorize the African Africans and deny them their freedoms.

While there were short-term improvements, many of these improvements were not sustained in the long run.

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The impact that the Reconstruction Era had on the lives of the newly freed African Americans is very mixed.  While it was a time of improvement for African Americans in many ways, it was also a time of great disappointment.

There were both temporary and permanent improvements in the lives of African Americans during Reconstruction.  The temporary improvement was largely political.  During much of Reconstruction, blacks were allowed to play a major political role in the South.  There were African Americans who were elected to high government offices.  The major permanent improvement that was felt by most African Americans was the fact that they were now free.  We should not understate the importance of this idea.  Blacks no longer needed to fear things like being sold away from their families.  They had more freedom than ever before.

However, we tend to remember the Reconstruction era as a disappointment for African Americans nonetheless.  One disappointment was economic.  Blacks were never given much chance to acquire their own land and so they ended up working for whites and often being exploited by them.  Another disappointment was political.  The political rights and power that blacks had were taken away from them relatively quickly.

Thus, Reconstruction had both positive and negative impacts on the lives of typical African Americans in the South.

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