Slavery and the Making of AmericaPicture of the first black U.S. Senator and representatives
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Freedom & Emancipation
Intro Historical Overview Character Spotlight Imagining Freedom Personal Narratives Original Docs
Historical Overview Freedom & Emancipation
Freedom & Emancipation
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Photograph of a group of freedmen
Group of Freedmen, Richmond, Virginia Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs.
The question now was what would become of the hundreds of thousands of newly freed men, women, and children. In 1862, the same year that President Lincoln expressed his advocacy of black colonization, the federal government abolished slavery in the nation's capital and provided for the emigration of freed blacks to Haiti and Liberia. The plan proved unsuccessful on a wide scale, as did Grants attempts to instate a colonization program as president after the war. For white Republicans, integration was the more practical approach to dealing with the free black population. Under their rule, Congress ratified two more amendments to the Constitution-- the fourteenth in 1868, which guaranteed African Americans citizenship and protection under the law, and the fifteenth in 1870, which granted all male citizens full constitutional rights. The Republicans were also responsible for "Radical Reconstruction" policies designed to disempower Southern white democrats and the creation of the Freedmen's Bureau, an agency that attempted to empower African Americans by aiding former slaves who desired to build schools and churches, to purchase land, to formalize marriages, and to reunite with lost loved ones.

Despite Reconstruction efforts and successes, the lifestyle and values of Southern Democrats proved deeply engrained. Many slaves relocated to the north. However, most freed men and women remained in the South, where they were pressed into sharecropping. This system entailed black workers farming the land of white planters. The black laborers were supposed to earn an equitable share of the profits from the agricultural yield. Instead, they were exploited, accruing insurmountable debts to the men whose fields they worked. Meanwhile, apprenticeship laws, by which whites could win custody of black children and put them to work, were little more than an alternative form of enslavement.

Perhaps most damaging to the progress of Reconstruction were groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Red Shirts. These confraternities of white men terrorized not only African Americans in the South, but also white Republicans.
Illustration of Representative Robert B. Elliot from
Representative Robert B. Elliot from "The Shackle Broken." Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.
One of Reconstruction's greatest successes had been black political involvement. African-American men not only voted, but also ran for and were elected to offices, actually gaining the majority in the South Carolina legislature in 1868. Because of threats from violent organizations like the Klan and due to pressure on legal bodies from Democrats eager to revive the social order of the antebellum South, the governments of Southern states were "redeemed." These states adopted Black Codes to limit the rights of freed people. The Republicans lost their control of Congress, and African Americans lost not only their newly won political power, but also the protection they were promised as citizens under the Constitution. By 1872, the Freedmen's Bureau was abolished.

In 1877, the Democrats and Republicans made a compromise to reconcile a debated presidential election. It was agreed that a Republican, Hayes, would take the presidency. In return, all remaining federal troops would be removed from Southern territories. Within the next year, there was an exodus from the south as former slaves realized that they would have to go elsewhere to find true freedom. Tens of thousands of African Americans took to the roads. They headed west.

Three years later, whites in the Tennessee legislature enacted a set of laws that replaced slavery with segregation. Similar Jim Crow laws were adopted by other states across the U.S. African Americans were free but their oppression was far from over.

Nicholas Boston is a writer and assistant professor of journalism and mass communications at Lehman College of the City University of New York.

Jennifer Hallam holds a doctorate in the History of Art from the University of Pennsylvania. Her studies focus on issues of sex and gender as they are manifest in material culture. She is currently working in documentary film production in New York City.
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