After the Civil War, there were “three and a half million men and women” (Brinkley, 352) freed from slavery. These individuals now faced Reconstruction, the reestablishment of the south after their secession from the Union. There were many different ideas on the proper way to proceed with reconstruction. To African Americans, the goals of reconstruction was freedom, to some that meant political equality others economic success, or social equivalence.
Freedmen wanted to have political equality, so their voices could finally be heard. During the reconstruction period, freedmen were faced with many political policies. These policies were put in place to limit the rights of African Americans. Freedmen and Congress fought these policies by establishing laws. One of the strategies southern legislatures used to disenfranchise African Americans was black codes. “Black codes, which authorized local officials to apprehend unemployed blacks, fine them for vagrancy, and hire them out to private employers to satisfy the fines.” (Brinkley, 358). This law also stopped African Americans from having the ability to own or lease land. Congress responded to this by creating the first Civil Rights Act. The act made African Americans full-fledged citizens and allowed the government to uphold these rights in the southern states forcibly. These events led to the 15th amendment which granted voting rights to African American men. Freedmen then began to participate and hold offices in Reconstruction policies. During the Grant Admiration in 1869-1877 however, reconstruction was abandoned, and southern whites took over the congress majority. Discrimination began to grow especial in the south and groups like the Ku Klux Klan began to form and push African American out of any position of power or authority. Congress acted against these groups by creating the Enforcement Act of 1870 and 1871. This act “prohibited states from discriminating against voters on the basis of race and gave the national government the authority to prosecute crimes by individuals under federal law…authorize the president to use federal troops to protect civil rights” (Brinkley, 369). This act helped stop the suppression African American’s voices; however, the north begins to withdraw with their support for African American in the south. The Compromise of 1877 was passed, and the federal troops were withdrawn. Then “Jim Crow” was formed, the courts decided that the government could not discriminate based on color, but private organizations had the right. Then in Plessy v. Ferguson, the supreme court ruled in favor of “separate, but equal” (PowerPoint, 31). In 1899 Cumming v. Board of Education ruled that schools were allowed to be separate even if there was no fair equivalent for African Americans. These rulings led to an increase in violence against African Americans. Though African American did not achieve political independence, they did make progress toward equal rights.
At the start of the reform, many African Americans wanted to participate in the economy and be independent. The problem, however, was they had no job, no education, and no land. In some areas it was illegal for African Americans to own or lease property. Congress Established the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865 this helped many African Americans. This program educated, feed, and handled land disputes. By 1870 4,000 black schools were established (PowerPoint, 12) In some cases, it gave land to African Americans and helped many African Americans gain economic independence. However, the bureau was shut down in 1870, and the land that the bureau gave to African American failed as southerner claimed the property to be theirs. Many African American began to participate in sharecropping. “they worked their own plots of land and paid their landlords either a fixed rent or a share of their crops” (Brinkley, 364). Many landlords took advantage of the African Americans positions, so they were left in poverty or debt. The “Crop-lien System” was also very popular during this time because it was the only way for poor whites and poor African Americans to get credit. These systems charged outrages interest rates, keeping the people in debt. They also had their crops as collateral for the loans. These systems kept many poor whites and poor African American in poverty. After some time, a few African Americans were able to achieve middle class, but a majority did not.
One of African Americans goals for Reconstruction was social equivalency to the whites. In the beginning, African Americans wanted independence. However, Jonson’s Reconstruction Plan gave no voice to these freedmen or protect their rights in any way. Congress tried to correct this wrong by creating the 14th and 15th amendment. These amendments gave the freedmen a voice, and it was enforced and even created some the first African American political leader. This did not last long because of the abandonment of reconstruction. In 1872 majority of whites regained control of the states. “Whites used outright intimidation and violence to undermine the reconstruction regimes.” (Brinkley, 368). Secret societies like KKK also “used terrorism to frighten or physical bar black from voting” (Brinkley, 368). This continued until Congress intervened with the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871. This did not solve the problem because in the compromise of 1877 the troops were once again pulled out of the south and impeding social equality. Despite these setbacks, African Americans made it to the middle class and earned respect. Then the Jim Crow laws were put into effect segregation. Though these laws were meant to equalize blacks and whites socially, they created an even more significant divide. Reconstruction did not provide African Americans with social equality.
Reconstruction pathed the way for many African American achievements; it did not reach any of the goals. Reconstruction provided little political freedom or protection. It did not create an economy in where freedmen could prosper. At the end of reconstruction, there was small social change as well.