Through economic, political, and social contexts, how were Reconstruction efforts resisted?
Despite abolition of slavery being successful, the road to complete equality was met with several difficulties. Following the end of the Civil War, the south was in dire need of rebuilding its economic, social, and political infrastructures. This led the Federal government to begin a period of reconstruction in order to facilitate the process of introducing freed slaves to society as well as begin to rebuild the south. Within the government systems themselves, there was disagreement on how to undergo reconstruction, thus limiting its success. Along with the unhappy south and the indifferent north, Reconstruction was an arduous process.
Although, there was initial success in the establishment of equal rights following emancipation, the success of Reconstruction efforts were limited by the decrease of Northern support and interest, the failure and overall ineffectiveness of the government to enforce its policies, and the growing popularity of anti-black sentiment groups. Therefore, the Reconstruction met with great opposition, both intentional and unintentional, and despite its initial intent failed to bring total equality and normalcy to the United States.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was established by Congress as an act to help the newly freed slaves and poor whites in the South. The main priority that the government had after the Civil War was rebuilding the south while integrating the freed slaves into society. However, a majority of freed slaves were illiterate, landless, and had little to no money, which caused many issues. As for the South, their primary economic system was now destroyed, causing damage to their economy. This required government action which was delivered through the Freedmen’s Bureau which provided aid, resources, and education. The bureau succeeded in helping numerous freed slaves and poor whites in regaining normalcy. The intended audience of this source were freed slaves and poor whites, as they needed to be informed of what resources and opportunities they had. The author(s) of this document, being members of Congress focused more on the state of the nation, and knew it was their duty to rebuild southern infrastructure in order to continue national growth.
In response to Republican-influenced government control in southern state governments, groups of Southern whites organized secret societies in order to intimidate blacks and white reformers. The Ku Klux Klan, pictured above, was the most prominent and successful in inflicting fear and terror. The KKK were angry with the result of the Civil War and focused their efforts on preventing freedmen from exercising their voting rights. This was done through the burning of black-owned buildings, murder, and threatening. The KKK was composed of common southerners whose main purpose was to limit the further gaining of rights by the freed slaves. These groups contributed to the continuously rising antiblack sentiments, thus giving rise to Jim Crow Laws and blatant segregation, thus severely limiting the efforts of Reconstruction period.
In this primary source, Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court, is shown. This picture documents Marshall’s success in the Brown vs. Board of Education court case which officially ended racial segregation in public schools. This shows how the despite the overall failure of Reconstruction, the government continued to open up opportunities for black people in order to establish greater equality. The legacy of Reconstruction lied in the South, progress was being made, albeit slowly. This led to the rise of Jim Crow laws and segregation which prevented the South from modernizing its social systems, people such as Marshall persisted in their efforts for greater equality. Reconstruction greatly changed the social and economic institutions of the South, and this primary source shows the true rebuilding of the South, and its first step towards a positive, more modern future.
In conclusion, Reconstruction efforts were deterred by the lack of Northern support, the inadequacy of the government policies, and the rise of radical, discriminatory groups. Similarly, during the Great Depression period, where many Americans were jobless and had little hope, the government issued the New Deal, similar to the Freedmen’s Bureau. President Roosevelt's New Deal employed jobs and reestablished financial security, thus rebuilding the American economy. Whereas the Freedmen Bureau’s was concentrated towards the southern economy. Both policies were attempts by the federal government to resolve issues plaguing the nation whether it be national or regional specifically regarding the nature of the economy after a great crisis.