Reconstruction Era

During the Civil War the nation was forced to come to terms with the abolition of slavery and the true meaning of freedom. By the war's end it was  clear that Reconstruction would bring far-reaching changes in Southern society, and a redefinition of the place of blacks in American life.

Reconstruction generally refers to the period in United States history immediately following the Civil War in which the federal government set the conditions that would allow the rebellious Southern states back into the Union. Reconstruction was an era of unprecedented political conflict and of far-reaching changes in the nature of American government. At the national level, new laws and constitutional amendments permanently altered the federal system and the definition of citizenship. In the South, a politically mobilized black community joined with white allies to bring the Republican party to power, while excluding those accustomed to ruling the region.

After the Civil War ended, a debate began in Washington about what to do with the former confederate states. Should they be returned as they had been before the War? Should they be reformed into new States? Would congress be in charge or  the President be in charge of the confederate states? In 1863 Lincoln announced a tentative proposal called the "ten percent plan." Under this plan, former states would be readmitted into the Union if ten percent of white voters took an oath of loyalty to the Union. Members of Lincoln's own party objected, but were unable to effectively oppose him. 

Aware that the Presidential plan omitted any provision for social or economic reconstruction, or black civil rights, the anti-slavery Congressmen in the Republican Party, known as the Radicals, criticized Lincoln's leniency. The goal of reconstruction was to readmit the South on terms that were acceptable to the north including full political and civil equality for blacks and the denial of the political rights of whites who were leaders of the secession movement. The Radicals wanted to insure that newly freed blacks were protected and given their rights as Americans.

After President Lincoln was assassinated Andrew Johnson took over as the President of the United States, and in 1885 he put into effect his own Reconstruction plan, which gave the white South a free hand in establishing new governments. Many people from the North  became convinced that Johnson's policy, and the actions of the governments he established, threatened to reduce African Americans to a condition similar to slavery, while allowing former "rebels" to regain political power in the South.

Southerners, with Johnson's support, attempted to restore the old ways to the South. In 1866, Congress and President Johnson battled for control of Reconstruction. The Radical Republican Congress won in a decisive victory, with the radical republicans winning  over 2/3 of the seats in congress.

They declared the southern states "unreconstructed," refused to seat the newly elected congressmen and senators, and began impeachment proceedings against Andrew Johnson. They also founded the Freedman's Bureau, a federal agency designed specifically to address the problems, and the rights, of the newly freed people. The Radical Republicans passed the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments, which abolished slavery and established that citizenship, and the right to vote, could not be limited on the basis of race. Most of the leading radicals had been active abolitionists for many years before the war. At their most idealistic, Radicals like Thaddeus Stevens imagined using economic and military force to "break the backs" of the slave holding class and bring about genuine racial equality. Stevens argued repeatedly that the property of former slave owners should be given to their former slaves. This would crush slave owning aristocrats and establish a solid economic basis for African American citizenship.

Congress removed the civilian governments in the South in 1867 and put the former Confederacy under the rule of the U.S. Army. The army then conducted new elections in which the freed slaves could vote while those who held leading positions under the Confederacy were denied the vote and could not run for office.

In ten states, coalitions of freedmen, recent arrivals from the North (Carpetbaggers), and white Southerners who supported Reconstruction (Scalawags) cooperated to form Republican state governments, which introduced various reconstruction programs, offered massive aid to railroads, built public schools, and raised taxes. Conservative opponents charged that Republican regimes were marred by widespread corruption.

Violent opposition towards freedmen and whites who supported Reconstruction emerged in numerous localities under the name of the Ku Klux Klan, which led to federal intervention by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1871. Conservative Democrats calling themselves "Redeemers" regained control state by state, sometimes using fraud and violence to control state elections. A deep national economic depression following the Panic of 1873 led to major Democratic gains in the North, the collapse of many railroad schemes in the South, and a growing sense of frustration in the North.

The end of Reconstruction was a staggered process, and the period of Republican control ended at different times in different states. With the Compromise of 1877, Army intervention in the South ceased and Republican control collapsed in the last three state governments in the South. This was followed by a period that white Southerners labeled Redemption, which saw the enactment of Jim Crow laws and later the disenfranchisement of most blacks. The Democratic Party practically monopolized the "New South" into the 1960s, when the civil rights and voting rights of African-Americans were restored by Congress.

Click on the links below for detailed information and photos on the historic eras of Black history in the United States

The begining - The Revolutionary War

African-American history starts in the 17th century with indentured servitude in the American colonies

The Cotton South - The Civil War

As the cotton-based economy boomed so did slavery, since slaves were needed to man the large-scale and labor-intensive plantations.

Reconstruction Years

The end of Reconstruction was a staggered process, and the period of Republican control ended at different times in different states.

The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a literary and intellectual flowering that fostered a new black cultural identity that began in Harlem, New York.

Civil Rights Movement

Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X are some of the names that come to mind when we think of the Civil Rights Movement.

Black Lives Matter

In 2013 a new movement to promote justice for African Americans began. Black Lives Matter has swept the nation protesting vilence and injustice.



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