During Reconstruction, freed slaves faced an uphill battle as they struggled to find their place within a hostile society.
Even though slavery ended with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment—the first of the Reconstruction Amendments—freed slaves were still victims of the cruelty of racial discrimination. From 1865 to 1866, many southern states passed "Black Codes" or "Jim Crow Laws" to limit the freedom of African Americans. Under these codes, some states placed restrictions on the type of property free blacks could own. Anyone who broke the labor contract was subject to beatings, arrest, and forced labor.
The Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868 by Congress to counteract the "Black Codes." In its first section, it states:
Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Fifteenth Amendment was the final Reconstruction Amendment, and it guaranteed a person's right to vote. In its first section, it states:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
These three amendments theoretically enabled African Americans to participate in social, economic, and political areas of society. For example, African American men served in public office, including the United States Senate and House of Representatives. However, the amendments also led to many whites' increased hostility toward black people.
White supremacists formed groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and terrorized those who opposed white authority. African Americans, Republican leaders, and white citizens were targets of the KKK. Segregation laws, disenfranchisement, and lynchings were predominant in the South.