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After the Civil War ended, America had a big task to deal with. There was devastation throughout the nation. The Reconstruction Era started, and the process of repairing the Union went underway. Newly freed slaves had to begin the process of adapting to society and making it on their own. They had some successes, but ultimately Reconstruction was a failure to African Americans. Reconstruction (1865-1877) failed to bring social and economic equality of opportunity to former American slaves due to supremacist groups who, along with most Southern whites, pushed for black codes to be passed which demoralized and limited African Americans rights, and forced them into falling back into slave like tendencies.
Some Southern whites were so embittered about their former slaves being free in society, that they turned to joining secret organizations that aimed to demoralize, scare, and terrorize freedmen. Many whites were resentful of the success and ability of black legislators as much as they were resentful for the corrupted souls pouring into the south. To deal with this resentment, secret groups like the KKK emerged. The KKK used tomfoolery, and violent force to prevent freedmen from voting. Many times they flogged, mutilated, or murdered freedmen to strike fear into those who knew and heard about the poor unfortunate soul who was tortured. The KKK would sometimes go on sprees of violence and leave hundreds of victims behind trembling or dead.
This group, as well as others, was extreme racists who would stop at nothing to hurt freedmen. They even attacked helpless women and children, who were defenseless against the brute force of the white men. When Congress finally intervened, Supremacist groups had already done its work of intimidation. Many groups, including the KKK, continued their violent practices against the law and where rarely punished in court. Supremacist groups made an everlasting mark in preventing social and economic equality of opportunity to former American slaves.
Black Codes were designed to control the affairs of the freedmen similar to the slave statutes that were in place in the pre-Civil War days. They varied from severity throughout the South, but they all had a lot in common. The main goal of the Black Codes was to ensure a stable and subservient labor force for the South. The South’s economy was crushed because of all the damage done to its fields. They could not rise to power until the fields were fixed. Many whites wanted to make sure that they kept the tight grip they had over black workers that they had previously had during the days of slavery. The Black Codes soon arose, severely limiting the rights of the freedmen. Strict curfews, vagrancy laws, labor contracts, and land restrictions all came from the Black Codes.
Penalties were given to blacks who “jumped” their labor contracts which were usually a yearlong to one employer. “Negro-catchers” were paid to bring freedmen back to their employers. The Black Codes also sought to restore white racial superiority. The codes forbade freedmen to serve on juries, some prevented them from owning their own land, some required them to have an employer, and those who rented housing could be punished by the landlord. When freedmen were allowed to vote, some states issued codes that prevented them from voting unless they met strict requirements. The Black Codes severely limited the success of freedmen and took away many opportunities that would allow them to prosper.
The atmosphere surrounding the freedmen made it very hard to succeed, which forced many of them to fall back into slave like tendencies. Because of white supremacist groups and Black Codes, freedmen had very limited opportunities to become successful on their own. To begin with, many former slaves had nothing when they were emancipated. They did not have anywhere to live, and many did not have any money to buy land. Whites took advantage of this and hired their former slaves and paid them next to nothing which forced them to work for the employer until they could save up enough money to leave (which was nearly impossible).
These freedmen were essentially brought back into the footholds of slavery. Sharecropping was another way that essential bound freedmen to their employers in a slave-like way. A freedman would become a tenant farmer who would be provided with credit for seed, tools, living quarters, and food, who worked an employer’s land and agreed to give a share of his crops. Many times the farmers would be luckless and end up getting sucked into the “morass of virtual peonage” for generations. They essentially became slaves to their creditors/employers. Freed African Americans were unfortunately susceptible to slave like tendencies, and there was nothing they could do about it.
The Reconstruction had good intentions as to how to accumulate freed African Americans into society; they just did not work out. Reconstruction failed to bring social and economic equality opportunities to former slaves. White supremacist groups terrorized freedmen, Black Codes limited countless opportunities for them, and share-cropping caused them to fall back into a cycle of slavery. Freedmen would not be given proper opportunities until the Southern whites could learn to accept the African Americans as equals.