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Black soldiers

Reconstruction and Beyond


The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the ratification of the 13th amendment at the end of the Civil War in 1866 gave 4 million African-American slaves their freedom. For the next 10 years, Congress implemented Reconstruction policies, aimed at readmitting the Southern states into the Union and integrating blacks into civic life.

The federal government provided a limited number of opportunities for blacks to acquire land. In 1865 General William T. Sherman's Field Order #15 deeded "40 acres and a mule" over to black families on the South Carolina and Florida coasts. President Andrew Johnson reversed the policy and most never received their allotments.

Black farm family

The Freedman's Bureau, established in 1865, provided relocation, education and medical relief to newly freed Africans, as well as Southern whites displaced during the Civil War. In 1866 the Freedman's Bureau opened 45 million acres of public lands in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida to settlers regardless of race. Many freedmen took advantage of the homestead opportunity, creating the first major wave of African-American land ownership.

Most freed slaves never had access to "free" land. To save enough cash to buy their farms, they worked for many years - in a climate of growing hostility from whites - as tenant farmers, sharecroppers, or in the steel or turpentine industries. Although many political gains won during Reconstruction were lost by the 1890s, blacks continued to acquire land. A lot of hard work yielded 120,738 black farms by 1890. By 1910 black farmers had accumulated 218,972 farms and nearly 15 million acres.

Jim Crow Rally

White Resentment
As African-Americans acquired land, resentment from Southern whites mounted. After 1877, and the election of Republican president Rutherford B. Hayes, the South quickly replaced Reconstruction laws with new ones that restricted the rights of blacks. White secret societies began forming to address the "Negro problem." In 1881, the first "Jim Crow" law was born when Tennessee required racial segregation in railroad cars. By 1896, the Plessy vs. Ferguson case put the federal stamp of approval on Jim Crow, excluding blacks from public transport and facilities, jobs, juries, and neighborhoods throughout the South. The laws helped spur racist hysteria, lynching, rioting and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. In the two-year period, 1900-1901, 214 lynchings were reported.


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