African Americans in the Post–Civil War Era

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What impact did Reconstruction have on African Americans? Did their condition improve post-Civil War?

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Your question asks whether African-Americans were better off AFTER Reconstruction than they were before the Civil War. Most unfortunately, the answer to this question is neither straightforward nor obvious. Although it is true that, after Reconstruction, slavery no longer existed in the United States, the fact remains that for most black people, this was the only difference in their status when the Reconstruction initiative was abandoned--and, in many cases, it made no material difference at all. It could even be argued that for the black people who were now working the same jobs in the same places, with the same lack of respect, it was worse to have had a taste of freedom and then to have had promise after promise broken by the US government. Before the Civil War, black people dreamed of a time when they would no longer be enslaved. What happened under Reconstruction seemed to suggest to many that this time could never come.

Immediately after the Civil War, the world changed for blacks in the American South. They were free, but provisions for freed slaves were scarce. Eventually, provision was made of "forty acres and a mule," and many blacks did succeed in establishing farms and beginning to sustain themselves. This, however, was not to last. The white landowners, who originally had been stripped of their lands, began to petition for their return. As feeling changed (and a recession set in) in the North, even those who had previously been in favor of emancipation started to lose interest in the plight of the black man. Racist feelings in the South reached fever pitch, with whites feeling that the white North cared more about Southern blacks than about Southern whites--something they could not stand. In response to huge outbreaks of lynchings and other racial violence, policy was changed so that those who petitioned for the return of their lands could take them back. The black people who had been given lands had their lands taken away from them again, and they became laborers, paid a low wage. As before, they were unequal.

At the height of Reconstruction, black men were elected to the Senate, with black voters turning out for them in droves. This threatened whites in both North and South to the extent that laws that had been passed were repealed, and the legally-elected black senators thrown out and even violently attacked. No longer able to label their black laborers property, whites turned to another means of oppression: segregation. Many black people felt that this was evidence of the Constitution's meaninglessness in the hands of whites: every citizen was created equal, unless he or she were black.

Yes, it is true that blacks after Reconstruction were no longer owned by other human beings. Nominally, they were free. But to state that this categorically made their lives better than they had been before the war is to overstate the case. Blacks would have to wait a long time before the civil rights they had been promised would ever materialize.

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Reconstruction had a major impact on African-Americans. African-Americans were better off as a result of Reconstruction, even if some of the improvements were temporary. Before the Civil War, most African-Americans in the South were slaves. They had no rights and no freedoms. This changed after the Civil War.

After the Civil War, the Freedmen’s Bureau was created to help the former slaves adjust to being freed. They received food, clothes, and medical care. They also received funds to build their own schools. The 14th Amendment was ratified that said that all people born in the United States were citizens and had the rights of citizens. These rights couldn’t be taken away without due process of law. The 15th Amendment gave African-American males the right to vote. Some African-American males got elected to office. African-Americans received rights that they didn’t have before the Civil War.

Even though many of these rights were restricted or taken away after Reconstruction ended, African-Americans were still free. Having freedom is far better than being a slave. African-Americans were being educated, something that didn’t happen during slavery. They were free to move from place to place with a pass. This also didn’t occur while they were slaves. Even though they had to struggle for about another 100 years before they regained some of the freedoms they lost after Reconstruction ended, such as equal access to public places, they were better off as free people than as slaves.

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