The Reconstruction was an era in American history, succeeding the Civil War, that saw, for a brief time, increased economic, political, and social freedom for African-Americans since the South was being repaired from the damage of the war. With the recent abolition of slavery, this begs the question: to what extent was the Reconstruction a turning point in race relations in the southern states? Although African-Americans saw an increase in freedom during Reconstruction, most progress was reversed by 1877 due to several factors but mainly due to the opposition from the former Confederate states as well as the chosen ignorance from the North. Therefore, the Reconstruction ended up being a turning point in race relations only to a small extent.
The 1868 engraving represents the temporary increase in status blacks saw during the Reconstruction. It shows a representative of the Freedman’s Bureau stopping a white crowd and a black crowd from engaging in violence. During this time, many whites were upset about the increased status of blacks. However, groups like the Freedmen’s Bureau aimed to protect the rights of newly freed slaves. Published in Harper’s Weekly, the author, Alfred Waud, was a journalist who came from the north, and wanted to portray the tensions between blacks and whites in the south.
This Thomas Nast cartoon represents the renewed racism and violence faced by blacks during the Reconstruction. Blacks were being oppressed and having an environment of fear created around them by new organizations such as the White League and the KKK. Nast, an abolitionist who often depicted racism in his cartoons, wanted to show how racism was negatively affecting to try to make northerners more alert of issues blacks faced in the south.
The 1866 black codes of North Carolina represent the legacy of Reconstruction in race relations. African Americans remained to be a very marginalized group. The North Carolina General Assembly consisted largely of people who were part of the Confederacy who held racist beliefs. Although they were forced to state the equality of blacks in some regards they had many racist policies, wanting to keep the socioeconomic status of African Americans low. These racist policies remained and became the Jim Crow laws.
The temporary gaining of rights and liberty of blacks during the Reconstruction is much like the temporary gaining of rights of women during the American Revolution. While many men were fighting the war, women took some nontraditional roles and some engaged in political activism; however, after the United States was established under the Constitution, these rights were largely lost.
Waud, Alfred R., “Freedmen's Bureau,” Digital Public Library of America, http://dp.la/item/7884d752c1dd9fd94b8368d2e0178f90.
Nast, Thomas. The Union as It Was. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia, n.d. Web.
Public Laws of North Carolina, session of 1866, p. 99; and Senate Ex. Doc.no. 26, 39 Cong., 1 Sess., p. 197. March 10, 1866