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African-Americans During the Reconstruction Era 1867-1877
In US history, the period between 1867-1877 is known as the Reconstruction that began with the Reconstruction Act’s enactment in 1867. In the Reconstruction era, the black people of America were guaranteed citizenship and the right to vote as per the fourteenth and the fifteenth amendments of the United States Constitution. From 1867, a section of the Union League was encouraging African Americans’ political activism, spreading across the Southern part of the nation. The State constitutional conventions held between 1867 and 1877 facilitated the political competition pitting the whites and the African-Americans in the same race. The Reconstruction period was very significant to the shaping of the US’s future and especially to the African-Americans living in the US. The paper looks at how at the events that took place during the Reconstruction era and the impacts they had on the lives of African Americans.
During the Reconstruction era in 1865-1877, many African-American slaves were focused on reassembling their families. Under slavery, the black families were separated, so their masters could make a profit. Also, they were separated due to disciplinary reasons. Children were separated from their mothers and fathers and sold as slaves. Husbands and wives were forced to live separately. Although the new labor agreements favored the ex-masters and former slaves, contract labor did not allow freed slaves to have total freedom. They could not own small lands, and during the Reconstruction era, the African-Americans remained poor, uneducated, and were under the control of the whites. They were therefore trapped in huge debt under the sharecropping and farm tenantry systems. After the new Southern state constitutions were enacted, the freed slaves looked forward to joining politics. Nevertheless, they were required to be enfranchised so that they could be allowed to vote. In 1869, thousands of Northern blacks were denied suffrage. Hence, during the Reconstruction era, the African-Americans made little gains as they did not enjoy the equality they anticipated. Despite their determined efforts to contribute to political and economic advancement, African Americans suffered terribly during the Reconstruction era. The African Americans were determined to improve their lives through the granting of certain lights, something that was achieved during the Reconstruction era as explained below.
Access to Education
Before the Civil War, literacy and formal education were inaccessible for most of the freed slaves. That meant that by the emancipation, the majority of the African Americans were illiterate. However, during the Reconstruction era, the willingness to learn and education provision had increased with the white and black teachers expressing the willingness to undertake to teach. Consequently, the white and black instructors from the South and North, schools, churches, and missionary organizations joined together to educate the emancipated population. Schools from the elementary level to college provided various learning opportunities from rudimentary reading and writing to various vocational types to the classics, technology, and arts.
Initially, they were faced with finding places where learning could be conducted as the white people were not willing to rent or sell their buildings or land to the African Americans for use as learning institutions. As a result, African Americans had to use churches mostly owned by the African American congregations. Despite the challenges that the African Americans faced, there were very eager to learn. The learning institutions in the southern part were always full. The African American children were attending racially segregated schools towards the bringing of the 1870s. The African Americans established public learning places where their children would attend, as they considered education as one of the human rights that should be enjoyed availed to the African American population.
In the era of Reconstruction, the African Americans in the former slaveholding states considered access to education as a major determinant in achieving independence, prosperity, and equality. Consequently, the Africans were very determined towards attaining education, and thus they had to find ways of navigating the many hindrances that were presented by the whites and the proliferation of poverty. African Americans’ determination to access education had a lasting effect in the former slaveholding states. The quest to make people access education was facilitated by the legislators and voters who played an essential role in establishing public schools that were meant for the white and black population in the southern parts of the country.
Citizenship and The Right to Vote
The right to vote by the African American Americans was provided in the fifteenth amendment of the US constitution that was ratified in 1870. Consequently, African American males could determine political representation by voting right from the local to the federal government level. The population of black people outnumbered that of the whites in many of the states in the southern part, making the whites concerned about the participation of the African American in political decision making through voting. Although the whites and the legislative bodies often contested African Americans’ election into political offices, many of the elected African Americans demonstrated strong leadership skills during the Reconstruction.
As the black people in the southern some Southern states outnumbered whites, the emancipated voters sent several African Americans representatives to the state assembly relative to the white representatives. The enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment after the Civil War emancipated all the slaves within the US’s borders who were granted the right to vote during the reconstruction era. The majority of the elected were able to do the legislative work as per the expectation as they worked on rewriting the state constitutions ensuring financing of public education, and guarantee human rights for all citizens. Sixteen African Americans served the Congress during Reconstruction, with many more serving in the state legislature and other local offices. The huge representation of the African Americans was fundamental in breaking with the country’s traditions of having white leaders as it was vehemently opposed by the white who were against the Reconstruction.
The Reconstruction era marked the period when the African Americans living in the US were granted the constitutional right to own land from their former owners, vote, seek employment, have active participation in political activities, and be accommodated in public facilities. However, the new system of things was being opposed by the former slave-owner, family from the south, who were working tirelessly towards eroding the gains made through the shedding of blood during the civil war. At that time, some freed slaves were freeing their owner’s compounds as others became wage laborers for their former owners. The African Americans could not choose for themselves the work that they wanted to do, and thus thy were allocated jobs as per the requirements of their white employers
The Role of the Black Church
The African American society centered around the church. The pastors were not only religious leaders, but they also performed business strategists, community leaders, and teachers. Families spent a given amount of their time in the church each week as the religious leaders visited people in the village at least once a month. During the Reconstruction period, the church was vital as the building that was initially being used as churches not doubled up as learning facilities with the religious leaders acing the teachers.
Reconstruction enabled the politically mobilized black community to join the white allies in bringing the Republican Party to power and redefining government responsibilities. The fourteenth amendment is considered one of the essential additions to the constitution after the bill of rights. The amendment brought about fundamental governmental relations changes as the black people were given the right to vote, which had been denied.
The reconstruction debate was focused on equality as the black people had been segregated and denied certain rights by their white American counterparts. The African American people played a very conspicuous role during the reconstruction period as they claimed their rights as citizens or participating in the debates about their future. The African Americans’ recognition as American citizens was arguably was one of the greatest milestones reached during the Reconstruction.
The Civil War had marked the end of slavery for the African American, but they later realized that they even though they had been freed, they were not free. Some challenges included education, owning property, and the right to vote and vie for political offices that the African Americans did not have. The Reconstruction period guaranteed all these rights to African Americans, allowing equal treatment with their white counterparts. The fourteenth and the fifteenth amendments represented a stunning expansion of the citizenry’s rights to former slaves.
The Reconstruction era was instrumental in determining how the whites and the African American co-existed in a country where slavery had been abolished. Although the whites supported the Reconstruction from the northern state, most of the southern states considered Reconstruction a humiliation and an act of vengeance, and thus, they were opposed to it
Anderson, James D. “Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865–1890.” Journal of American History 105, no. 3 (November 3, 2018): 691-92. https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/jay347.
Iowa Deprtment of Cultural Affairs. “”A Speech from Gov. Hayes” Newspaper Article, November 9, 1876.” IDCA. January 15, 2019. Accessed November 02, 2020. https://iowaculture.gov/history/education/educator-resources/primary-source-sets/reconstruction-and-its-impact/speech-gov.
Library of Congress. “”The First Vote” / AW [monogram]; Drawn by A.R. Waud.” The Library of Congress. Accessed November 02, 2020. https://www.loc.gov/item/00651117/.
Nast, Thomas, Alfred R. Waud, Henry L. Stephens, James E. Taylor, J. Hoover, George F. Crane, and Elizabeth White. “The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship Reconstruction and Its Aftermath.” Reconstruction and Its Aftermath – The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship | Exhibitions (Library of Congress). February 09, 1998. Accessed November 02, 2020. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/african-american-odyssey/reconstruction.html.
Simpson, Brooks D. Reconstruction: Voices from Americas First Great Struggle for Racial Equality. New York, NY: Literary Classics of the United States, 2018.
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