We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

African Americans: Reconstruction And Beyond

The whole doc is available only for registered users

A limited time offer! Get a custom sample essay written according to your requirements urgent 3h delivery guaranteed

Order Now

There are a great many myths and misunderstandings about the Civil War and the Radical Reconstruction Era. While most are familiar with these tumultuous times in American History, there are many facts that people are not familiar. Furthermore, the lack of familiarity is exacerbated when the lack of familiarity revolves around the specifics of the abolishment of slavery and, more specifically, the new world African-Americans found themselves in the five decades after the war ended, a world that had more than a few parallels to the current situation with Mexican immigrants in America today.

In 1865, immediately after the Civil War ended and the Reconstruction Era was established, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands was formed as a means of helping the newly freed slaves transition into a new life. This bureau was among the first government agencies designed to establish a federally back social programs. These social programs included health care, food distribution and public schooling. Unfortunately, this bureau did not remain funded for longer than eight years and ended up being dissolved. It is important to note that the bureau existed at a time when government backed institutions were scarce and it offered a positive method of transitioning the newly freed African-Americans into American society by making some minor reparation for prior injustices.

Reconstruction, however, was hardly a social fantasyland in the south as one of the most ominous presences to emerge from the Reconstruction era was the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Playing to the fears of the white establishment, the Klan was formed as a way of “preserving” the old ways by subjugating blacks by means of a protracted, violent campaign of terror. To call the Klan terrorists, however, is to marginalize what the organization truly was. The KKK was not a fringe radical group. It was a powerful political force that amassed a general membership in excess of one million dues paying members and countless more millions in sympathizers.  In fact, many elected officials were Klansmen and they played a major factor in developing the segregation system that was a component of the fabric of life in the south. To compound this situation facing African-Americans even further, in the early 1900’s, KKK sympathizer Woodrow Wilson was elected to the office of the President. The government that once freed the slaves was now looking to stifle and control those who were freed from one for of oppression and then transferred to another oppression.

The south white oligarchy used its economic power to organize the Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups. Northern politicians began to weigh the advantage of the political support of impoverished blacks… against the more stable situation of a South returned to white supremacy, accepting Republican dominance and business legislation. It was only a matter of time before blacks would be reduced once again not too far from slavery. (Zinn)

In other words, in order to avoid another conflict, the North and the South reached a compromise where the North would maintain economic dominance whereas the South would retain its social structure. The concerns of the African-Americans were marginalized and swept away under the carpet.

The North, it must be recalled, did not have to undergo a revolution in its thinking to accept the subordination of the Negro. When the Civil War ended, 19 of the 24 Northern states did not allows Nefroes to vote. By 1900, all the southern states, in a new constitution and new statutes, had written into law the disenfranchisement and segregation of Negroes, and a New York Times editorial said: “Northern men…no longer denounce the of the Negro vote…The necessity of it under the supreme law of self- preservation is candidly recognized. (Zinn)

While emancipating the slaves was certainly a huge step forward for American civilization and a played a major role in eliminating slavery on a worldwide basis (sadly, slavery still existed in other areas of the world such as Brazil where the volume of people sold into slavery increased and did so for several years), to simply dissolve slavery, instill an apartheid system of segregation where basic civil rights are denied is simply a more subtle form of slavery. Deriving from the economic and social compromise was the dashing of the hopes of many African-Americans who saw their emancipation hopes dashed and replaced with a oppression regime in the form of the same government that had once claimed to be helping them.

In the early 20th century, forty years had passed since slavery was abolished in the United States, yet between 1900 and 1965 there was a minimum of 3,000 incidents of lynching of black citizens in the south. This is to say nothing of other forms of violence perpetrated on blacks that resulted in death such as bombings, beatings and shootings that occurred in both the south and the north. Furthermore, there were significant instances of physical violence and assaults that did not result in fatalities that have never been recorded. While slavery had ended, there was still a violent system of oppression in place designed to create a subsystem of American society that would later be referred to as a system of internal colonization. Considering that the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act would not become law until the mid-1960’s (Lyndon Johnson, fearing a re-election loss, did not want to pass the Voting Rights Act too close to the Civil Rights Act), and that even AFTER these Acts became law the National Guard had to be called in to enforce it speaks volumes. The question that comes out of this is, was there any period of hope for African-Americans in the first few decades after the conclusion of the Civil War?

Similar to the role that many illegal Mexican immigrants play today, African-Americans played the role of cheap labor. While the power structure of the south maintained an economic infrastructure of low cost labor driving the cost of good down which allows “everyone” to benefit. However, African-Americans were not integrated into society on an equal level, nor were they provided with economic advantages or civil rights and this played a major roll in African-Americans migrated to the north. While life in the north was hardly perfect, it was better than what existed in the south. Similarly, Mexican immigrants might not have the greatest opportunities in America, America offers far more opportunity that the economic and crime ridden disaster area Mexico has devolved into.

The period of years between 1910 and 1920 was dubbed the era of “The Great Migration,” as during this time frame there saw a significant increase in African-American relocation from the southern states to the industrialized north. The reason for this mass exodus was to seek economic prosperity, as there was a significant need to fill jobs in northern factories as the both volunteer and conscripted soldiers from the white communities in the north sent to fight in the brutal trenches of World War One had left significant vacancies in the extremely important factory industry. Facilitating this migration was the collapse of the Southern economy:

The war opened a period of hard times…Businesses throughout the country were depressed, farm prices were deflated, unemployment were serious, heavy industries were working far below capacity and banks were cleared off. (Zinn)

The economic problems in the south that coincided with the demand for factory jobs in the North finally allowed the chance for an exodus from segregation and a new life for many African-Americans. The modest prosperity derived from employment opportunities was the basis of an emerging cultural identity for African-Americans who migrated as well as providing a symbol of hope for those who remained in the south all of which is paralleled in the new migration of immigrants from Mexico who share a commonality with the African-Americans of the early 20th century. Similar to the African-Americans of the Great Migration, Mexican immigrants fill an employment void created by Americans disinterested in laborious work that pays poorly.

            Sadly, in a grim parallel of the anti-immigration sentiment that exists today, there also existed an anti-African American migration during the early part of the 20th century as well. This was evident once the Great War came to a conclusion.   “Race riots occurred in Northern states, as some whites feared that they would lose jobs to the migrants, who commonly were willing to work for less than other people.”  (Anon)

            From this unfortunate event, many newly imported African-Americans found themselves in a tremendously economically disadvantageous position that they would not emerge from until recent years.

            The history of African-Americans in the United States between the years of 1865 and 1917 has been a tumultuous one. The sad, mixed message of the hope of the Emancipation Proclamation being undermined by the institution of segregation, an institution that was enforced by the Ku Klux Klan in a violent, brutal method of repression. While not a perfect solution, the ability to migrate to the north during the period of World War One for the promise of jobs did provide a new hope, one parralleled by Mexican migrate workers today, albeit a hope that was brief.

Works Cited 

Anonymous. 02 February 2005. Great Migration 08 October 2006.

URL http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=502 

Howard Zinn, (1999) A People’s History of the United States, New York: Harper’s


Related Topics

We can write a custom essay

According to Your Specific Requirements

Order an essay
Materials Daily
100,000+ Subjects
2000+ Topics
Free Plagiarism
All Materials
are Cataloged Well

Sorry, but copying text is forbidden on this website. If you need this or any other sample, we can send it to you via email.

By clicking "SEND", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.
Sorry, but only registered users have full access

How about getting this access

Your Answer Is Very Helpful For Us
Thank You A Lot!


Emma Taylor


Hi there!
Would you like to get such a paper?
How about getting a customized one?

Can't find What you were Looking for?

Get access to our huge, continuously updated knowledge base

The next update will be in:
14 : 59 : 59