To what extent did African Americans obtain freedom and equality during the Reconstruction?
During the Reconstruction, all southern states were forced to incorporate the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments in their constitutions if they wanted admittance to the Union. These amendments listed Reconstruction procedures, abolished slavery, and outlined the citizenship process. As of 1865, no one could possess another human being as a slave, which meant that in theory all African Americans had obtained freedom. While the ex-slaves embraced their new opportunities to participate in sociopolitical settings and to work for an income, many ex-Confederates found ways to shortchange the new lower class; as a result, African Americans obtained a certain degree of freedom but not the Constitutional equality that they deserved.
This photo depicts a school for African Americans during the Reconstruction. While being enslaved African Americans were prohibited from obtaining an education because the white plantation owners viewed that as a means of power and rebellion. During the Reconstruction, at first white school teachers were hired from the North and previously escaped African Americans to teach schools where even ex-slave children and adults attended to get an education. Classrooms often lacked school supplies and were overcrowded because everyone wanted to learn. Lessons ended up being large lectures full of often a hundred students. As the adults learned they gradually replaced the white teachers and schools remained mostly segregated in fear of racist persecution if combined with other white schools. The first universities targeted for African Americans, such as Tuskegee University, also became founded during the Reconstruction as more students graduated from their primary schools.
While African Americans were able to practice politic rights, own land, and establish churches and schools, it was easy for Confederate sympathizers to find loopholes in depriving African Americans from fully exercising their freedom. Perhaps the most infamous example, as pictured above, is the organization of the Ku Klux Klan, also known as the KKK. This organization not only intimidated African Americans by looming over ballot boxes, but they shot and lynched many African Americans and Republicans, thus illustrating that the Reconstruction's law enforcement was weak and that life was separate and unequal in the way of liberty and justice.
Though the Reconstruction did bring some drastic positive changes to the lives of former slaves, (such as having churches and schools and the right to vote), African Americans were constantly in danger of being lynched or shot for trying to run for office or voting. Ex-Confederates were allowed to regain their political offices due to Congress granting them amnesty in 1877, and President Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Act and the Freedman's Bureau, essentially cutting off African Americans from help that could have quickly ended segregation and poverty associated with being treated as a minority.Today the negative affects few the Reconstruction are still prevalent as there is ongoing racial discrimination in law enforcement, such as the high incarceration rates for African Americans, and the "new Jim Crow Laws". These laws make cheaper drugs (like crack) illegal while allowing expensive drugs (cocaine) to remain legal, thus incarcerating more African Americans who bought the more affordable drugs, while allowing rich white drug abusers to get let off the hook. In education, studies show that teachers are more likely to punish a black male student than a white male student. In employment studies, African Americans are statistically shown to have lower acceptance rates than whites even if the African American's credentials are much more prestigious. The negative affects of the Reconstruction are still prominent today, and are much more significant as opposed to the subtle social changes altered throughout after the Civil War.
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