A Comparison of The Southern White and Freed Black Experience & Struggle During the Reconstruction Era
Summary: This is a 5 page paper on American history - A Comparison of The Southern White and Freed Black Experience & Struggle During the Reconstruction Era introduction. The paper has 2 sources and is in APA format. This paper compares and contrasts experience and struggle of the southern whites and freed blacks during the reconstruction.
A Comparison of The Southern White and Freed Black Experience & Struggle During the Reconstruction Era
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The 19th Century is marked by some of the major and most important events of the American history. It was the century of great expansion of the country westward and in few decades the entire western continent under the American hegemony. This expansion not only increased the resources and riches of the country but also created some problems and started controversies and debates over the nature of the new states. This thing for the first time made the question of slavery a hot issue and the gulf between the North and South widened and union ultimately became divided. Lincoln’s election was the final blow for the Southern states and soon the states seceded from the Union which triggered the civil war. It took four years of steady, struggling and bloody warfare that finally the Union took control of the now ruined South. The end of the war was marked by the assassination of president Lincoln and the commencement of reconstruction. After the end of the war both the vanquished southern whites and triumphant freed blacks both started tried to settle down and recover from the losses of the war. The blacks looked for equal civil rights and opportunities while the whites struggled to retain their economic, social and political domination. This paper will compare and contrast the southern white and freed black experience and struggle during the post civil war and reconstruction period.
The initial response of the black slaves of the South was a sense of disbelief. They were too much accustomed to the perpetuity of the their slavery that it took sometime before they got used to the idea and feeling of complete freedom. They were mostly very discreet and careful in expressing their gratitude and triumph on their current achievement of freedom. There were fears that the confederate soldiers may return again and the dream of their newly achieved freedom will become a nightmare. “we’d began celebratin’,” one man said, but Confederate soldiers would follow, or master and overseer would return and “tell us to go back to work” The freedmen and women learned, therefore, not to rejoice too quickly or openly.” (Nash et. al, 2007, 484) Initially the freed blacks were quite hesitant to leave the plantations. Those who dared to leave the plantations considered themselves as runaway slaves for a couple of weeks until they finally accepted the fact that they were free at last. Then when they got hold on the feeling of freedom, they started their new journeys and voyages in search of lost loved ones and relatives, jobs and occupations in the other cities and towns. (Nash et. al, 2007, 484) Another way of demonstrating their new status was choosing surnames. The attitude and behavior of the freed blacks with their former white owners also changed. Expressions of deference like “master” and “ma’am” diminished and later disappeared. (Nash et. al, 2007, 485)
The vanquished southern whites were initially in the state of shock, grief and dismay. The sorrow as well as the fear of the retaliation of the freedmen against the inhumane behavior and barbaric crimes of many plantation owners and their overseers against the slaves also became a nightmare for most of the southerners. Though most of these fears proved to be groundless as most of the ex-slaves with respect and loyalty but now with the freedmen dignity and pride and there was rarely any retaliation of the blacks against the whites during the post civil war period. (Nash et. al, 2007, 482) There was an open furor and outrage over the sheer possibility of the freedmen getting equal social and economical right and that they will compete them in every aspect of life in the future.
When the initial merrymaking was over the Blacks soon tasted the bitterness of the realities and found out that their future in the South as freedmen and the achievement of equal status was far from realization. The blacks amid the great hatred and enmity of the southern whites found that the northern Unionist military and the new civil government was unable to provide them security, equal civil status and opportunities. Soon they were compelled to believe that “if they wanted to ensure their freedom, they had to do it themselves. (Nash et. al, 2007, 482) The initial priorities of goals and objectives were quite clear among the freed blacks. Their first priority was education to groom themselves to compete in the world where the white elite class is strong, dominant and unwilling to give them any opportunities. They wanted to get rid of the names and stereotypes regarding the blacks they are mentally an inferior race, and that they are unable to cope the complex issues, responsibilities and difficult situations, which a free man faces. The next priority of the freed blacks was to get a land, the primary motive of which was to build their houses and settle down. “Give us our own land,” one black said, “and we take care ourselves; but widout land, de ole massas can hire us or starve us, as dey please,” (Nash et. al, 2007, 486)
The southern whites vanquished but defiant now decided to fight until their last breath to retain their superiority and dominion in the South’s economic and political system. The southern whites not only had to deal with the new emerging black community but also the victorious northern Unionists who were clearly and explicitly in favor of granting the blacks as much as civil rights as possible. The first priority of the defeated whites was to resume control of both land and labor. Resuming control of land proved to be more easy than resuming control of the labor. The Unionist government despite all of her allegiance with the freedmen was determined to give the plantations back to the white owners. Thus the law and federal government enforcement supported the property owners and all those blacks who had taken control of the plantations when their ex-masters fled in the terror of the advancing Unionist army were forced to abandon the properties. (Nash et. al, 2007, 482) acquiring their lost properties and plantations the southern white elite now devised their plans to subdue the freed blacks and from here the most terrible and bloody experiences of the reconstruction began.
Initiating their response against the emancipation proclamation the southern white legislatures devised and passed “Black Codes” in the starting years of the reconstruction era. These codes deprived the blacks of many civil rights without which they can never achieve equal social and economical status. They were deprived of racial intermarriages, bearing arms, possessing alcoholic drinks, sitting on trains, being on city streets and congregate in large groups. (Nash et. al, 2007, 487) Thus they started to gain control over the black population by virtually denying them nearly all the civil rights and privileges enjoyed by the white men. Even a black cannot live freely unless a respectable white held the responsibility of his behavior. Most of the laws passed by the new legislatures did not guarantee civil rights, schooling or economic protection of the freedmen. The southern states never allowed the Federal government to enforce the 14th and 15th amendments in the constitution which provide the African Americans complete autonomy and equal civil rights and economic freedom. Apart from the legal process the whites started their “terror campaign” against the African American in order to subdue them.
Racial violence erupted just after one year of the surrender of the Confederate troops in 1866 in Memphis, where white mob killed, beat, robbed and raped helpless African American. Nearly 46 blacks while only 2 whites were killed. Even the Unionist army seemed reluctant to restore order and save the African American population and even an officer that “his troops had hated Negroes too.” (Nash et. al, 2007, 487) After a successful campaign in Memphis other parts of the South followed the suit and the racial violence spread to every southern county but the North eastern Texas remained the focal point of this activity. There was no law and order in the area and white bandits, robbers and assassins roamed freely unchecked throughout the Trinity county. They called people out of their homes and killed them or hanged them in the broad day light. (Roberts & Olson, 2007, 321) At Clarksville the Ku Klux Klan broke up a Negro school and forced the teacher to flee the state. (Roberts & Olson, 2007, 322) Thus the main focus of Klan activities was to force the African Americans to abandon all their struggles to achieve education and economical freedom. When the time of the harvest came the Klan bandits would storm in the black plantations and force them to flee. Later the whites would collect the crops, on which they have not spend a cent neither any labor. (Roberts & Olson, 2007, 322) The elite white organized this campaign and made it one of the most terrifying organizations of the 19th century America. The Klan worked hard to ensure that mostly Republican Black population voted for the Democrats. In this way the Klan played the pivotal role in not only subduing the African Americans but it also helped wiping out their northern allies and the Republicans from the South and in 12 years the South was completely Democrat and the blacks were as dependent on the whites as they were in the antebellum South.
The failure of the Congress to provide the freedmen land compelled them to sign contracts with the white plantation owners. But eventually they got enraged with the same antebellum attitude of the whites and started breaking the contracts and tried to start their own work. They tried their best to get a piece of land and start their own plantation. Those lucky enough to get a piece of land found out that it was completely desolate not suited for cultivation. Even when they got some land where cultivation was possible they were forced to sell their crops to local merchants who tried to pay them at the lowest possible price. Many blacks thus abandoned the plantations and moved to towns where they were now low-waged laborers.
After giving a thorough review of the reconstruction era it becomes quite clear that the social and economic freedom which the northern Unionists and Abolitionists dreamed of at their victory in the civil war never came true. All their efforts went futile and in few years the freed Black population was forced to subdue themselves to their former masters again.
Nash et. al. (2007) The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society, Concise Sixth
Edition, Volume 1, Longman, ISBN 0205572464
Roberts & Olson. (2007). American Experiences: Readings in American History, Seventh
Edition, Volume 1, Longman, ISBN 0321487028