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Victoria Hubble February 8, 2000
The Reconstruction, a time most people would call a rebirth, succeeded in
few of the goals that it had set out to achieve within the 12 years it was in progress. It was
the reconstruction’s failure in its objectives, that brought forth the inevitable success in
changing the South, as well as the countless African Americans living in it as well as the
countless African Americans living in it at the time. There were three goals the
reconstruction set, and failed to achieve, as well as emphasizing the profound effect it
had on the south, and an entire race.
In the South the Reconstruction period was a time of readjustment
accompanied by disorder. Southern whites wished to keep blacks in a condition of
quasi-servitude, extending few civil rights and firmly rejecting social equality. Blacks, on
the other hand, wanted full freedom and, above all, land of their own. Inevitably, there
were frequent clashes. Some erupted into race riots, but acts of terrorism against
individual black leaders were more common.
During this turmoil, Southern whites and blacks began to work out ways of
getting their farms back into operation and of making a living. Indeed, the most
important developments of the Reconstruction era were not the highly publicized
political contests but the slow, almost imperceptible changes that occurred in southern
society. Blacks could now legally marry, and they set up conventional and usually stable
family units; they quietly seceded from the white churches and formed their own
religious organizations, which became a central point for the black community. Without
land or money, most freedmen had to continue working for white masters; but they were
now unwilling to labor in gangs or to live in the old slave quarters under the eye of the
The governments set up in the Southern states under the congressional
program of Reconstruction were, contrary to traditional cliches, fairly honest and
effective. Though the period has sometimes been labeled “Black Reconstruction,” the
Radical governments in the south were never dominated by blacks. There were no black
governors, only two black senators and a handful of congressmen, and only one
legislature controlled by blacks. Those black who did hold office appear to have been
about equal in competence and honesty to the whites. it is true that these Radical
governments were expensive, but large state expenditures were necessary to rebuild after
the war and to establish--for the first time on most southern states--a system of common
schools. Corruption there certainly was, though nowhere on the scale of the Tweed Ring,
which at that time was busily looting New York City; but it is not possible to show that
Republicans were more guilty than Democrats, or blacks than whites, in the scandals that
If the Civil War was fought to set black slaves free, then Reconstruction
proved to be a fight to limit their freedom. Political power was gained by former slaves
during the late 1860s, but any power gained was all but gone by the end of the 1880s.
Blacks were given liberty in name only for the most part. They were not allowed to
develop nor use the skills necessary to take advantage of that liberty in America’s unique
system of democracy and capitalism.
For most African Americans living in the south during the
Reconstruction era, life changed dramatically from enslavement, to a life of limited
rights. Even though the reconstruction offered them a few unreliable rights, it failed to
offer them the equal amount of social, economic, and political freedoms. It was these
three contributing factors that participated in changing the south. The Reconstruction was
started by the freed slaves who rallied and protested for civil rights as well as justice. In
addition to this, Radical Republicans from 1865 to 1877 temporarily wiped out each state
in the South’s system of government. All of the “black codes”, a series of laws that
forced blacks to sign labor contracts requiring them to work at a job for a full year, laws
that permitted employers to whip black workers, and laws that allowed states to jail
unemployed blacks and hire out their children, that violated or contradicted the equality
of any man were overwritten by civil rights bills pushed by the Radical Republicans.
The first goal of the 12 year reconstruction was to build a lifestyle of
social equality for all the African Americans living in the south. This was the first time
the South had been forced to put the equality of all persons before
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Reconstruction Era, Black Codes, Radical Republican, Equal Protection Clause, Black Reconstruction, African-American Civil Rights Movement, Colfax massacre
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