To What Extent Was the Era of Reconstruction a “False Dawn” for African Americans in the Southern State of the United States of America? 1863 - 1877

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To what extent was the era of Reconstruction a “false dawn” for African Americans in the Southern state of the United States of America? 1863 - 1877

During the era of construction, African Americans were led to believe that things were about to change for them. The emancipation proclamation introduced by Lincoln had been passed in 1863, which immediately entitled freedom to 50,000 slaves. They were now free, no longer tied down by the restrictions of slavery, which meant things could be done to improve their lives, economically, socially and politically, hopefully leading to their equal presence in society. In the North, this may have been the case, whose victory in the Civil War had led to the end of slavery in America, with the establishment of the Freedman’s Bureau leading to a better life for many, however in the South, their plans for the newly freed slaves was something entirely different.

The era of reconstruction saw the very first use of violence from white supremacist groups on African Americans. The Ku Klux Klan was established in 1886, in Tennessee, where they would use violence and intimidation, not only against black people, but also against supporters of Reconstruction in the South. Numerous attacks were made through 1866, to 1870, from the Memphis riots, where 46 blacks who had served in the Northern Army were killed, to Mississippi, where Klansmen mutilated a leading black Republican, and finally in Georgia, where three scallywag Republicans were also murdered. Spiller notes that “Jack Dupree, black and politically active in Mississippi, who had spoken out in favour of equal rights, had his throat cut by the Klan and was disembowelled in front of his wife.” Each of these murders committed, were not only against African Americans, but also against those who were in support of the North. It would have been easy enough for the Klan to excuse the attacks, by saying that they were attacking based on principle – they don’t want to associate with people who had turned their backs on the South in support of the North. It was visible that there was still tension between the North and the South, making it a likely idea that the South would have done anything to rid their area of foreign bodies.

The period of Reconstruction also saw the introduction of new laws which were made to keep black people subordinate to whites. First of all, there were the Black Codes, which had been implemented from 1865-1866, and restricted both the rights and civil liberties of the African Americans. Some of these Black Codes included that employment was required of all freedmen and if they refused, they would face vagrancy charges, also, they were not taught to read or write, which constantly kept them in a more subordinate position than any white person, as their opportunity for employment outside of agricultural work was very limited. Jim Crow laws, which were then introduced in 1876, were in many ways a follow on from the Black Codes which had now become dated. The laws had a “separate but equal” status for the African Americans, however this was incredibly unlikely to work. These laws prioritised segregation, and ways in which black people could believe they were being equally treated, but the state still managed to keep them subordinate to whites. For example, segregation could be found within: public schools, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants and even within the US military army. How could African Americans and Americans be equal beings, if each aspect of their lives were kept separate?

However, some acts were passed to try and counter the black codes by denying the discrimination of black people in society, and this included bills such as the Civil Rights Act 1866. Within this Act, it stated that black citizens of the United States were allowed the same protection of the law as white people. This was quite radical, especially in the South, where black people were still kept in subordinate positions despite...
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