Reconstruction and the black experiencePresentation Transcript
Reconstruction and the black experience 1865-1877
Responding to freedom
First reaction of newly-freed African Americans = get away from the plantation!
Think about Fountain Hughes…no need for a pass anymore
Seek jobs, new way of life, families
Families are rebuilt
Freedmen’s bureau helps reunite families
Slaves could now marry legally
No more fear of being sold away from family
During Reconstruction, the freed people gave a high priority to the creation of schools, often with the assistance of the Freedmen's Bureau and northern missionary societies.
Between 1865 and 1870, the Freedmen’s Bureau spent $5 million just on education!
This photograph of a newly established school was taken around 1870, showing both the barefoot students and the teacher. (Library of Congress)
More than 150,000 African American students attended 3000 schools by 1869
Why was education so important to freed people?
Many white Southerners were against freemen’s schools
Attacks on teachers
African Americans of all ages eagerly pursued the opportunity freedom provided to gain an education. This young woman in Mt. Meigs, Alabama, is helping her mother learn to read.
40 acres and a mule
Most freedmen wanted/expected land to help them become economically independent
Rumor spread that the government would give all ex-slaves forty acres and a mule to start their new lives
Radical Republicans proposed taking away land from plantation owners and giving it to freed people, but the idea did not have enough support in Congress to pass
Many felt that civil/voting rights were enough
Land reform would be too harsh on Southerners
Result: freed people turned to contracts or sharecropping to make a living
Contract system vs. sharecropping
African Americans could decide whom to work for
Planters could not abuse them or split up families
Like in slavery, workers could not leave the plantation without permission
Planters often cheated workers out of wages and benefits
Laws punished workers for breaking contracts even if they did so for good reason!
Families without land now had a place to farm
Landowners had a source of cheap labor
Farmers wanted to grow food crops for their families but landowners wanted them to grow cash crops like cotton; surplus of cotton actually drove the price DOWN, resulting in poverty!
Cycle of debt created by the system tied workers to the land (p. 527)
In the contract system , freed African Americans worked on the plantation in exchange for wages, shelter, and food In the sharecropping system, workers rented a plot of land in exchange for a share of the crop
Before the Civil War, about 135 slaves worked on the plantation, supervised by an overseer and a slave foreman. After the war, the former slaves who remained on the plantation signed labor contracts with owner David Barrow. Freedmen grew cotton for wage, but they disliked the new arrangement. In the late 1860s, Barrow subdivided his land into tenant farms of twenty-five to thirty acres, and freedmen moved their households from the old slave quarters to their own farms. By 1881, 161 tenants lived on the Barrow plantation, at least half of them children. One out of four families was named Barrow. The Barrow plantation, 1860-1881
Sharecropping gave African Americans more control over their labor than did labor contracts. But sharecropping also contributed to the south's dependence on one-crop agriculture and helped to perpetuate widespread rural poverty.
At plantation stores like this one, photographed in Mississippi in 1868, merchants recorded in their ledger books debts that few sharecroppers were able to repay.
African Americans and the politics of Reconstruction
Of all the opportunities now open to African Americans during Reconstruction, the right to vote was seen as the most important!
During Reconstruction, more than 600 African Americans served in state legislature, and sixteen of the new U.S. congressmen/senators were African Americans as well
Important names include Hiram Revels and Robert B. Elliot
Which political party did they support?
Reconstruction statistics: African American members of Congress
White resistance to black rights
In addition to poverty, freedmen faced violent racism!
Many whites (especially in the South) opposed giving African Americans opportunities to rise in society
As a result, groups formed to intimidate African Americans to keep them from asserting their rights
This 1866 cartoon opposed the Freedmen’s Bureau because it would “keep [African Americans] in idleness at the expense of the white man”….what sort of message was this cartoonist trying to send?
The Ku Klux Klan was a secret organization that aimed to remove Republicans from power and restore white control of the South through violence
Lynching blacks for “crimes” committed against whites were a common tactic
Targets of the KKK included prosperous African Americans and white Republicans
Klan victims had little protection! Military authorities hired by Johnson were against Reconstruction and simply ignored the violence
In this picture, the artist has portrayed a group of bizarrely dressed Klansmen contemplating the murder of a white Republican. (Library of Congress)
The KKK terrorized African Americans to keep them from voting!
These tactics helped Democrats increase their power
The KKK was finally outlawed in 1871, but it was not the only group trying to keep African Americans powerless!
Alabama's White League, formed in 1874, strove to oust Republicans from office by intimidating black voters.
To political cartoonist Thomas Nast, such vigilante tactics suggested an alliance between the White League and the outlawed Ku Klux Klan. (Harper's Weekly, October 24, 1874)