AP World History
01 January 2001
Civil Rights and Slavery: African Americans After the Civil War “This is a white man’s country; let white men rule!”(Bolden 19), declared our fourteenth President, Andrew Johnson, after the Civil War. Slavery had existed legally, as a form of brutal labor on America's land since 1619, when slaves were first brought to the colony of Jamestown (“Slavery in America”). During the process of research, one may find that the controversies about slavery in the United States led to one of the most cataclysmic battles ever in American History, the American Civil War. The most important, intentional reason for this gruesome war was to end slavery by granting slaves freedom, to become equal American citizens; however, most believe that the Civil War did the opposite of achieving this objective, and did not truly provide freedom and equal citizenship for slaves until many years later, as exhibited by the consistent racist policies in American society (Kelly). The issue of slavery many years ago still impacts citizens, as racism still exists in America today. Many feel that President Abraham Lincoln ended racism, but this is not entirely true. After Lincoln freed the slaves in the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, including the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 that abolished slavery, making it illegal in America, many Americans were enraged with these actions and distrusted change (Miller). Since America had become an independent nation, we had slavery on our soil, therefore causing it to be a commonly known aspect of American society. As one Southerner said, “The Emancipation, as well as the 13th Amendment, brought freedom... but a world without slavery is a world turned upside down” (Ferrell 66-67). Although our government made it seem as if it supported a nation without cruel slavery, it did not genuinely care for African Americans. These prejudicial politicians passed these laws to glorify themselves, receiving political power and recognition. For example, an Associate Professor of History and American studies at Mary Washington College, Claudine L. Ferrell, describes these shameless men as “greedy, petty men who cared more for their economic as well as political gain rather than they did for the rights of blacks” (Ferrell xi). Despite the fact that people fought for slavery annihilation along with African American’s equal rights, most Americans needed slaves and didn’t know differently. Nevertheless, African Americans were treated unfairly and weren’t considered or given the right to American citizenship. Therefore, society viewed freed blacks, roaming in America, as having no place to be treated equally as white men or share their rights. American citizens believed that the only job for blacks was to work for white men. After freedom was granted, African Americans were treated with carelessness by white men, as shown by the economic policies during the Reconstruction Era. For example, sharecropping was a policy that soon became the “dominant labor system” (Bolden 39). According to Claudine Ferrell, “A white landowner would provide land for black workers who would receive a percentage of the harvest that they worked on, instead of wages” (71). This unfair practice kept African Americans in low-paying jobs, not to mention, offered no economic freedom, which caused it to become immensely troublesome to provide for oneself and one’s family. As Ferrell writes, “Although the sharecropper was free to leave the land, in many circumstances they didn’t have sufficient money and owed the landowner an excess of any profit made from working the land, therefore most were in debt and ordered to stay on the land until the sharecropper had paid the due amount” (72). Sharecropping can be compared with slavery and its injustices, due to the small amount of money one received for this burdensome labor. Similar to the sharecropping system, the government enacted a series of laws, known as the Black Codes. These aimed at controlling the black population and preventing freed people from moving to better conditions. Historian and editor, William Dudley stated, “These laws forced blacks to sign year-long labor contracts, authorized the whipping of black workers and allowed states to jail unemployed African Americans as vagrants... other laws forbade blacks from owning land and seeking jobs, other than farmhands” (14). Award winning author, Tonya Bolden, mentioned that the Black Codes banned African Americans from “being artisans, carpenters, blacksmiths, giving them the lowest-paying jobs, even no jobs...forcing them to work as domestic servants” (22-23). Many black men from Alabama were often convicted of “wandering or strolling about, and those who were able to work and had no property, faced a one thousand dollar fine and six to twelve months in jail” (Ferrell 83). These racial policies and tyrannical restrictions were created because of discrimination, which was profoundly harsh on ex-slaves. As a remedy to the Black Codes, the Freedmen’s Bureau was established to provide assistance for blacks due to recent misfortunes. To illustrate, Bolden adds, “For relief of oppression and other miseries, many African Americans turned to a social service agency, the Freedmen’s Bureau. Its mission was to aid the destitute of the South” (23). This was important because many blacks needed somewhere to turn to, and were in search for hope. In addition, History Professor at University of Illinois, J.G. Randall, writes, “Hospital service was extended and schools were widely established. Care was taken by the Bureau to obtain justices for the Negro and protect him from discrimination as to civil rights” (567). Even then, not everything for African Americans was perfect. These people were handled by the government and by society with the least amount of respect. Overall, American society was withholding African Americans from equal rights and depriving them from “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” With the effective changes wrought by the emancipation and the Freedmen’s Bureau, many African Americans had more hope in front of them. Gradually, as the government contemplated the matter of discrimination towards ex-slaves and realized the brutal policies of
society, Congress passed the 14th Amendment of the U.S Constitution, in 1868, giving blacks citizenship in America and forbidding the states to restrict their basic rights (Randall 546). This change was also important to the African Americans and was a turning point in American history. Another Award Wining author and senior editor of Age of Betrayal: the Triumph of Money in America 1865-1900, Jack Beatty asserted, “The 14th Amendment was intended primarily to protect freed people from state laws like the Black Codes” (138-139). A couple of years later, in 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified, promising African American men the right to vote by declaring the “rights of citizens of the U.S to vote shall not be denied by the U.S. on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (Primary Documents in American History). This is important because it not only affected freed slaves in the South, but also blacks living in the North, who generally had not been allowed to vote either. This amendment was the third of the reconstruction amendments. The Reconstruction Era was a time of recovery and helped African Americans by building a new society not based on slavery. It officially provided former slaves with equal rights under the constitution, however the failure of Reconstruction was the integration of freed slaves in America (Bolden 37). There were three Reconstruction Acts during Johnson’s presidency that were all vetoed and overridden by Congress. Later, a financial crisis occurred during the Panic of 1873 that “brought many political and social changes to America” (Randall 661-663). One of the most important changes accelerated by this recession was that the “interests of Northerners being turned to economic issues rather than social issues” (Bolden 144), ending the desire to fund the Reconstruction. At this time, groups such as the Klu Klux Klan were founded in Tennessee, aggravating this issue by fueling white men into threatening African Americans through violence while attempting to progress in equal citizenship in America. Many KKK members tortured and even killed blacks, intimidating them, with the burning of the crosses, doing anything possible to suppress African Americans as a lower race than the white race, mostly because of hatred and
ignorance! Bolden also writes, “the KKK was constantly on warpath, giving peace no chance” (86-87). They targeted those set free after the Civil War and had never considered the former slaves as being free. After all the problems in the south, and finally the KKK to restrain them from progressing, African Americans still wouldn’t give up on their hope and faith that life for them in America would improve. Later, in 1875, the Civil Rights Act became law, officially completing equal rights for all people, regardless of one’s race, color or ethnicity (Reconstruction: The Second Civil War). Then, just two years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, the Compromise of 1877 effectively “ended the Reconstruction era due to the promises of the government that were not fulfilled, of protecting civil rights and allowing them to have economic freedom as American citizens” (Ferrell 61-62). Sadly, the government passed a set of laws requiring segregation of “Whites and Blacks” in public locations, such as restaurants, schools, and public transportation. This worsened life for African Americans for decades, only ending in the late twentieth century. After the disastrous Civil War, slavery was not completely terminated, proven by the unjust laws set up by corrupt governments officials, segregational policies, and economic restrictions that withheld African Americans from truly achieving freedom and being treated equally as citizens of America (Did the Civil War Really End Slavery?). Freedom represents much more than ending the cruel system of slavery. It means being able to acquire economic, social and political freedom. Freedom includes having the right to stroll on America’s streets without being wrongfully judged and persecuted, enjoying the right to an equal education, like other Americans, having a career, not being frightened by threatening groups, and having the right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Works Cited
Beatty, Jack. Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America 1865-1900. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Print. Bolden, Tonya. Cause: Reconstruction America 1863-1877, 1st Ed. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2005. Print. “Did the Civil War Really End Slavery?” Yahoo: 23 July 2014 (http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index). Web. Dudley, William. Reconstruction. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Greenhaven Press. Publishing Group, 2003. Print. “The Eighteen-hundred and seventy-five Civil Rights Act.” Reconstruction: the Second Civil War: 22 July 2014 (http://www.PBS.org/wgbh/amex/reconstruction/activism/ps-1875.html). Web. Ferrell, Claudine L. Reconstruction. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003. Print. “Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.” Primary Documents in American History: 22 July 2014 (http://www.loc.gov/RR/program/bib/ourdocs/15thamendment.html). Web. Kelly, Martin. “Top Five Causes of the Civil War.” About American History : 15 Jan. 2014 (http://americanhistory.about.com/od/civilwarmenu/a/cause). 22 July 2014. Web. Miller, Douglas. “Emancipation Proclamation.” By the President of the United States of America: A Proclamation: 22 July 2014. (http://libertyonline.lincolnemancipate.html). Web. Randall, J. G. The Civil War and Reconstruction. D. C., Washington: Little, Brown & Company, 1969. Print. “Slavery in America.” History.com: 20 Jan. 2014 (http://www.history.com/topics/slavery). 22 July 2014. Web.