South Carolina Brothers
The period of rebuilding that followed the Civil War became known as Reconstruction.
A major concern during Reconstruction was the condition of the approximately 4 million freedmen (freed slaves). Most of them had no homes, were desperately poor, and could not read and write. The word also refers to the process by which the Union restored relations with the Confederate states after their defeat. Reconstruction lasted from 1865 to 1877 and was one of the most controversial periods in the nation's history. Scholars still debate its successes and failures.
To help the freed slaves and homeless whites, Congress established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. The agency, better known as the Freedmen's Bureau, operated from 1865 until 1872. It issued food and supplies to blacks; set up more than 100 hospitals; resettled more than 30,000 people; and founded over 4,300 schools. Some of the schools developed into outstanding black institutions, such as Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University), Fisk University, Hampton Institute, and Howard University.
In spite of its achievements, the Freedmen's Bureau did not solve the serious economic problems of African Americans. Most of them continued to live in poverty. They also suffered from racist threats and violence and from laws restricting their civil rights. All these problems cast a deep shadow over their new freedom.
The legal restrictions on black civil rights arose in 1865 and 1866, when many Southern state governments passed laws that became known as the black codes. These laws were like the earlier slave codes. Some black codes prohibited blacks from owning land. Others established a nightly curfew for blacks. Some permitted states to jail blacks for being jobless.
The black codes shocked a powerful group of Northern congressmen called Radical Republicans. These senators and representatives won congressional approval of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The act gave African Americans the rights and privileges of full citizenship.
The 14th Amendment.
In June 1866, Congress proposed the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave citizenship to blacks. It also guaranteed that all federal and state laws would apply equally to blacks and whites. In addition, the amendment barred former federal and state officeholders who had supported the Confederacy from holding high political office again.
None of the defeated Southern states had yet been readmitted into the Union, and Congress declared that none could rejoin until it ratified the 14th Amendment. Johnson urged the states to reject the amendment, and all the former Confederate states except Tennessee did so. Tennessee then became the first of the 11 defeated Southern states to be readmitted into the Union. The 14th Amendment was finally ratified by the required number of states in 1868.
Temporary gains.
The policies of the Radical Republicans enabled African Americans to participate widely in the nation's political system for the first time. Congress provided for black men to become voters in the South and called for constitutional conventions to be held in the defeated states. Many blacks attended the conventions held in 1867 and 1868. They helped rewrite Southern state constitutions and other basic laws to replace the black codes drawn up by whites in 1865 and 1866. In the legislatures elected under the new constitutions, however, blacks had a majority of seats only in the lower house in South Carolina. Most of the chief legislative and executive positions were held by Northern white Republicans who had moved to the South and by their white Southern allies. Angry white Southerners called the Northerners carpetbaggers to suggest that they could carry everything they owned when they came South in a carpetbag, or suitcase.
African Americans elected to important posts during Reconstruction included U.S. Senators Hiram R. Revels and Blanche K. Bruce of Mississippi and U.S. Representatives Joseph H. Rainey of South Carolina and Jefferson Long of Georgia. Others were Oscar J. Dunn, lieutenant governor of Louisiana; Richard Gleaves and Alonzo J. Ransier, lieutenant governors of South Carolina; P. B. S. Pinchback, acting governor of Louisiana; Francis L. Cardozo, secretary of state and state treasurer of South Carolina; and Jonathan Jasper Wright, an associate justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. Most of them had college educations.
By the early 1870's, Northern whites had lost interest in the Reconstruction policies of the Radical Republicans. They grew tired of hearing about the continual conflict between Southern blacks and whites. Most Northern whites wanted to put Reconstruction behind them and turn to other things. Federal troops sent to the South to protect blacks were gradually withdrawn. Southern whites who had stayed away from elections to protest black participation started voting again. White Democrats then began to regain control of the state governments from the blacks and their white Republican associates. In 1877, the last federal troops were withdrawn. By the end of that year, the Democrats held power in all the Southern state governments.
The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave the vote to all male citizens regardless of color or previous condition of servitude. African Americans became involved in the political process not only as voters but also as governmental representatives at the local, state and national level. Although their elections were often contested by whites, and members of the legislative bodies were usually reluctant to receive them, many African American men ably served their country during Reconstruction.
Reconstruction Congress
Pictured here are Senator Hiram R. Revels and Representatives Benjamin S. Turner, Josiah T. Walls, Joseph H. Rainey, Robert Brown Elliot, Robert D. De Large, and Jefferson H. Long.