Who Killed Reconstruction: Its Significance for African Americans

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About this sample


Words: 1635 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Aug 4, 2023

Words: 1635|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Aug 4, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Challenges of Reconstruction Integration
  3. Black Codes and Political Participation During Reconstruction
  4. Transformation of Gender Roles During Reconstruction
  5. Conclusion
  6. Works Cited


Our understanding of black political and social life, then and now, would not be the same without The Reconstruction, a pivotal era in American history that shaped the trajectory of African Americans. The Reconstruction period holds profound significance in unraveling the complex dynamics of race and power during the post-Civil War era. It was a time of immense hope, as African Americans were granted new rights and opportunities. However, these advances were short-lived, as they faced numerous obstacles and setbacks that ultimately led to the demise of this transformative era. This raises the question: who killed Reconstruction? The black response to 'Black Codes,' gender roles during the Reconstruction, and Black women's courageous defiance against gendered stereotypes all contribute to our understanding of the forces that undermined and dismantled the progress made during this critical period.

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Challenges of Reconstruction Integration

“Easily the most dramatic episode in American history was the sudden move to free four million black slaves to stop a great civil war, to end forty years of bitter controversy, and to appease the moral sense of civilization.” After the Civil War ended, the United States had to reintegrate both a formerly slave population and a formerly rebellious population back into the country, which is a challenge that might’ve met, except Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and we were left with Andrew Johnson. “The heroes of the story were Andrew Johnson, who sought to defend constitutional government against assaults by the Radical Republicans in Congress, and the Ku Klux Klan and kindred groups who eventually over­ threw Reconstruction and restored “home rule” (that is, white supremacy) to the South.” Lincolns whole post-war idea was to facilitate reunion and reconciliation, and Andrew Johnson’s guiding Reconstruction principle was that the South never had a right to secede in the first place. Also, because he was himself a Southerner, he resented all the elites in the South who ignored him. Plus he was also a racist who didn’t think that black people should have any role in Reconstruction. So, between 1865 and 1867, also known as “ the period of Presidential Reconstruction, Johnson appointed governors and ordered them to call state conventions to establish new all-white governments. And in their 100% whiteness in the oppression of former slaves, those new governments looked suspiciously like the old Confederate government they had replaced. But a lot was changing for former slaves. Fiske and Howard University were being established along with primary and secondary schools thanks in part to the Freedmen's Bureau, which only lasted until 1870 but had the power to divide up and confiscated and abandon confederate land for former slaves. This was very important because to most slaves, land ownership was the key to freedom and many feel like they’ve been promised land by the union army. Like general Sherman‘s Field Order 15 promised to distribute land in 40-acre plots to former slaves. But that didn’t happen, instead, President Johnson ordered all land return to its former owners. So the South remained largely agricultural cultural, with the same people owning the same land, and in the end, he ended up with sharecropping. This system replaced slavery in many areas in the south. Landowners would provide housing, seeds, and things of that nature for the sharecroppers to work on the land. Eventually, the sharecroppers would get a “share” of their crop which would usually be only about a third, to sell. So basically freed blacks got to control their work while plantation owners got steady labor. This system tied workers to land they didn’t own which was the exact opposite of Jeffersons' deal of the small independent farmer.

The Republicans weren’t happy that this reconstructed south looks so much like the pre-Civil War South, so they took the lead in reconstruction after 1867. radical Republicans fought the war have been fought for equal rights and wanted to see the powers of the national government expanded. Not many were as radical as Thaddeus “Tommy Lee Jones” Stephens who wanted to take away land from the Southern planters and give it to the former slaves but, rank-and-file Republicans were radical enough to pass the civil rights bill, which defined persons born in the United States as citizens and establish nationwide equality before the wall regardless of race. Andrew Johnson immediately vetoed the law, claiming to try to protect the rights of African-Americans amounted to discrimination against white people, which infuriated Republicans that Congress did something it had never done before in all of American history. they overrode the presidential veto with a 2/3 majority in the civil rights act became law. So Congress decided to amend the constitution with the 14th amendment, which defines citizenship guarantees equal protection and extends the rights in the Bill of Rights to all the states. The amendment had no democratic support, but it also didn’t need any, because there were almost no Democrats in Congress on account of how Congress should refuse to seat the representatives from the ‘’new’’ all-white governments that Johnson supported. And that’s how we got the 14th amendment arguably the most important in the whole constitution.

Black Codes and Political Participation During Reconstruction

Then there were Black codes. The Black Codes, also known as Black Laws, were laws made specifically for African Americans. Black codes were legal codes where they just replace the word slave with the word Negro which shows just how unwilling white governments were to ensure the rights of new free citizens. The most well known black codes were passed between 1865 and 1866 by southern states, after the Civil War. These codes were placed to restrict African Americans’ freedom and gave them no choice but to work low wage jobs. Black codes were one of many ways whites tried to maintain political dominance and suppress newly emancipated African American slaves.

“One of the most important aspects of Reconstruction was the active participation of African Americans ( including former slaves) in the political, economic and social life of the South” During the first couple years of the Reconstruction, black people organized Equal Rights Leagues. The National Equal Rights League (1864-1921) was founded in Syracuse, New York in 1864. It promoted full and immediate citizenship for African Americans. The league based its call for full citizenship as compensation for military service in the Revolutionary Wars. They argued that the sacrifices of African Americans on the battlefield entitled all black males to the ballot and all black men and women to full citizenship. They also recognized the importance of education in guaranteeing equal rights. “During the first decade of the 20th Century, W.E. B. DuBois, now a prominent leader of the League, attempted unsuccessfully to convince NERL members to include white Americans in the organization. When he failed, he joined the newly organized National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).”

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded on February 12th, 1909. It is the nation’s foremost, largest, and most widely recognized civil rights organization. Its more than half-million members and supporters throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, leading grassroots campaigns for equal opportunity and conducting voter mobilization. The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.

Transformation of Gender Roles During Reconstruction

Gender roles during reconstruction were very different from today. Through source material in the Freedmen's Bureau, historians can show how free labor during Reconstruction transformed the status of former slave women as well as men. Records like the census showed the gender roles within the newly freed families. ”The black population at the time of the first census had risen to three-quarters of a million, and there were over a million at the beginning of the nineteenth century.” “While the 1870 census does not indicate relationships of family members, most households had an adult male. Both the pension and Freedmen's Bureau records indicate the roles that men and women played within families. In describing their domestic relations with their men, freedwomen applying for pensions demonstrate a clear gendered division of labor in the household.” Women were expected to stay at home and take care of the house and children. Their day consisted of cooking, washing, and mending clothes. While men obtained the main responsibility to provide for and protect their families.

In addition to that, black women didn't have rights to anything at all, including their bodies. During Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, black women remained vulnerable to sexual violence and continued their campaigns for sexual justice. Black women continuously fought for sexual justice during reconstruction to reclaim their bodies. Sexual violence was common to all Southern women, black and white, but black women were in even more danger because white men were not immune to perceptions of black women as sexually lascivious.

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So in conclusion our understanding of black political and social life, then and now, would not be the same without The Reconstruction. The black response to “Black Codes”, gender roles during the Reconstruction, and Black women’s response to gendered stereotypes define our understanding of black life.  

Works Cited

  1. Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. Harper Perennial, 2014.
  2. Franklin, John Hope. Reconstruction after the Civil War. University of Chicago Press, 1994.
  3. Litwack, Leon F. Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery. Vintage Books, 1979.
  4. Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. The New Press, 2018.
  5. McFeely, William S. Yankee Stepfather: General O.O. Howard and the Freedmen. Norton, 1994.
  6. Perman, Michael. The Road to Redemption: Southern Politics, 1869-1879. University of North Carolina Press, 1984.
  7. Stampp, Kenneth M. The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877. Vintage Books, 1965.
  8. Woodson, Carter G. The Mis-Education of the Negro. Black Classic Press, 1990.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Who Killed Reconstruction: Its Significance for African Americans. (2023, August 04). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 13, 2024, from
“Who Killed Reconstruction: Its Significance for African Americans.” GradesFixer, 04 Aug. 2023,
Who Killed Reconstruction: Its Significance for African Americans. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 13 Jul. 2024].
Who Killed Reconstruction: Its Significance for African Americans [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Aug 04 [cited 2024 Jul 13]. Available from:
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