Following the defeat of the Confederacy in the civil war, the victorious Union was tasked with the reconstruction of the nation, especially the devastated south. Reconstruction represented a set of unprecedented challenges for the federal government, including the reunification of north and south politically and the revival of southern economy and infrastructure. Despite these issues, the protection and expansion of rights for newly freed slaves was the foremost and most difficult task that faced the federal government. By focusing on how effectively black rights were protected and expanded upon, one can gauge the successes, failures, and legacy of reconstruction.
The Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed that no citizen may be denied the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
After the war the federal government was tasked with helping freed slaves become members of a new american society. New laws were effectively passed that increased the rights held by black Americans. This included the expansion of rights that had previously been reserved for white men to include men of all colors. Congress passed the 14th amendment, granting citizenship to all freed slaves, and then the 15th amendment, protecting against the denial of voting rights based on race, color, or previous servitude. Along with the ratification of these amendments, Congress passed many more laws that protected and enhance the rights of blacks. Federally funded schools were created across the south, granting rights to education for freed slaves. African Americans for the first time were given rights and took steps towards equality.
An illustration from the reconstruction era which depicts the KKK and continued oppression of blacks
Although the rights of blacks were expanded upon, they were not effectively protected. As reconstruction continued, conditions for freed slaves worsened. Hate groups such as the KKK grew in influence. Depicted in the above illustration, white citizens worked to undermine the newly found rights of blacks and restore white power in government. Southern lawmakers passed laws that revoked or restricted many rights for blacks. Freed slaves were often intimidated while they attempted to exercise their new found rights, such as at the polls or when speaking openly. Former confederates who had been disenfranchised were re given the rights to vote and hold office in the south and with the restoration of confederate sympathies came increased persecution of blacks. The federal government in turn became ineffective in protecting the newly granted rights of African Americans.
Signs from the 1950's show the practice of segregation
The legacy of reconstruction is one of segregation. African Americans were granted new rights, but these rights were not protected. As whites gained renewed dominance over southern culture, and the spirit of abolition and equality faded in the north, blacks were increasingly persecuted. American society evolved after reconstruction into one that separated colored people from white people. This legacy of reconstruction existed for the next century, as the rights that were supposed to be granted to blacks were obstructed or restricted. Social customs evolved in which blacks were granted rights, but these rights were openly and commonly infringed upon. Reconstruction succeeded in establishing rights of blacks, but it's legacy was the lack of protection of such rights.
Reconstruction established the rights of newly freed slaves through the passage of laws at the federal and state level along with the addition of amendments to the constitution that further entrenched their rights to vote and the granting of their citizenship. Despite this however, the greatest failure of reconstruction was the inability to protect the newfound rights of blacks from infringement by the white majority. As a result of this, the legacy of reconstruction was a century of segregation where american society was dominated by whites, with the rights of blacks consistently disregarded or ignored. The infringements of the rights of a minority throughout american history is unfortunately not confined to just African Americans. Rights have been refused or restricted from many groups such as women, religious minorities, racial minorities, and sexual minorities. In the case of other ethnic minorities, their rights have been most often been obstructed similarly to blacks during reconstruction. In the 19th century, the rights of many migrants from Europe such as the Irish and Eastern Europeans were often ignored. During world war two, the rights of Japanese Americans were disregarded as they were interned within their own country. In today's world, one of the most often forms of discrimination comes against individuals based on their sexual orientation, which is still entirely legal in many states. The continued racial persecution that blacks experience following reconstruction is a direct result of the success in establishing rights for black Americans, but an inability to and an apathy towards the protection of these rights.