Reconstruction: A Brief Glimpse of Freedom
The end of the Civil War in 1865 meant the legal end of three centuries of enslavement of the children of African in the United States. The period following the conclusion of the Civil War is known as Reconstruction. It lasted just twelve years (1865-1877).
Nearly every part of national life was reshaped during Reconstruction. The most important issues came from former slaveholding states: what would be the place of African Americans in the South? How would former slaveholders be treated? How would the violence and inequality of slavery be redressed?
The national government attempted to answer these questions establishing full citizenship and voting rights for Black men. For a time, Black men voted for political leaders and even held elected office. However, the success or failure of Reconstruction would be determined far outside the capital.
In the South, millions of freed African Americans began new lives and founded new communities. They faced violent resistance from many white Southerners, who were angered by the racial equality that was promised by the national government. Terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan intimidated, tortured, and killed Black Southerners to maintain white supremacy in all forms.
The national government lacked the will to stop these terrorists. Within a dozen years, state and local governments were reclaimed by white supremacists, killing the promise of a Radical Reconstruction of the country.
A new racial caste system, known as Jim Crow, was put in place after Reconstruction’s failure. The Jim Crow system turned out very similar to the slave system. Black people were subject to racial violence, especially public lynchings. Black political rights were oppressed. Economic mobility was stifled and reparations ignored. In every public space, Black Americans were treated as inferior. The new racial caste system, present in the North as well as the South, ensured that America’s Black Holocaust would continue for centuries more.
How African Americans Changed the Meaning of the Civil War
Actions by Black folk changed the meaning of the Civil War, turning it from a war to preserve a white government into a war to destroy the institution of slavery.
Founding the New Free Black Community
Millions of freed Black Americans built their own communities across the South post-Civil War. They worked to establish a life of freedom and prosperity for themselves and future generations. Schooling, church, and family were important pillars of community-building. They meant to enjoy their freedom to live with family, unite in marriage, raise children, worship in the open, and educate the next generation.