On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln changed the course of history and the lives of over 3 million enslaved African Americans by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, an accordance that freed slaves in states waging war against the union. Years of being enslaved by the white man oppressed the voice of millions of African Americans, hindering their ability to fight for their freedom, basic human rights, and political advancements.
However, January 1st, 1863 would be the catalyst to a fight of over 100 years that African Americans had to endure in order to obtain equality in America. It is remarkable to see a group of people who were enslaved and had nothing: no possessions, no education, and no rights, to learn the political system to further advance the livelihood of African Americans. Many people when thinking about the fight for civil rights automatically jump to the time of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr during the 20th century. They leave out an important time in history that helped to lay the roots for Parks and King to do as they did. The Reconstruction era until 1900 was a pivotal time for the establishment of African Americans in politics.
During the Reconstruction Era three laws were put into motion to establish the legitimacy of the African American in America. In 1865, the 13th amendment was adopted, and slavery was officially abolished. In 1868 the 14th amendment came to pass broadening the term citizenship in retrospect to African Americans and granting them “equal protection” under the constitution. Lastly in 1870 the 15th amendment was passed stating a citizen’s right to vote would not be denied based upon race, color, and previous condition of servitude. These three amendments allowed African Americans to feel somewhat as American citizens and definitely gave them more rights that when they were enslaved.
Not only were African Americans gaining advancements in the constitution, but they were also making strides in electoral participation in the South. African Americans held a considerable amount of power, and with that power they repealed laws that were put into place by white southerners who felt their power and control slipping away by the growth of the Black people. To try and stop the growth of African Americans and to further try and oppress them, white southerners put laws into place known as the black codes.
Black codes were put into place to undermine Black economic autonomy and to ensure that Black people would be available for cheap labor, much like slavery. During this time of political growth for African Americans, African Americans came together to form political alliances with not only other Black people, but with White sympathizers as well. These relationships that were created would prove helpful when the Reconstruction Era would come to an end in 1877 after the departure of the last federal troops in the South.
With the departure of federal troops from the South came even harder times for African Americans. There were no authoritative figures to enforce the rights of Black people and aid them against the tyranny of people who didn’t believe in Black rights. In the South, violence and the reverse of political progress became apparent and severe. Democrats would perform multiple forms of electoral fraud in order to gain and keep their power including: ballot stuffing, miscounting votes, denying votes with no legal cause, and using acts of violence.
It got to the point where African Americans started to migrate out of the South in order to escape the injustices they were facing every day. On April 17, 1879, a convention was held in New Orleans that brought hundreds of African Americans together. During this convention, men and women discussed migration tactics as a solution to escape the political, civil, and economic marginalization’s of their communities. African Americans living along the Mississippi River were part of a mass migration in 1879 to Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. As many as forty thousand African Americans left the South and this was known as the Exoduster Movement. By leaving the South, African Americans not only gave themselves better opportunities, but they caused a major loss to the South in regards to labor.
Even with the migration of hundreds of African Americans and the loss of support from the reconstruction era, black people continued to make strides for their political and civil advancement. A major development that occurred in 1880 was a ruling that the Supreme Court made that disallowed the exclusion of African Americans in juries. This ruling would help African Americans receive fair trials in court that they were not accustomed too during this time. In the mid 1880s, African Americans continued to ban together to create multiple mutual aid societies and labor unions in order to take further action.
They demanded higher compensation, the protection of political and civil rights, debt relief, electoral reform, and much more. Labor unions that were organized during this time included the Colored Agricultural Wheels, the Colored Farmers Alliance, the Southern branch of the Knights of Labor, and the Cooperative Workers of America. With a multitude of different labor union and societies, of course came competition in gaining African American members.
However, the competition between the societies was a good sign, it showed that the movement was prosperous and helped to spur its growth further. By the end of the 1880s and beginning of the 1890s, the movement for Black Populism included well over hundreds of thousands of supporters who were part of an organization. Although during this time African Americans and their supporters were making successful strides, they continued to experience corruption and hateful retribution from white authorities who feared of a new Reconstruction era.
Murders, beatings, and lynching’s were just some of the form of tactics that were used against the Black race to force them into submission of their white counterparts. Lynching’s became very popular during this time, and as the Black Populist movement continued to grow and expand, so would the number of lynching’s. Even with these horrendous atrocities happening and happening very publicly, it did not scare African Americans into hiding, it just helped them to solidify their reasons for advancing their movements and helped to keep their momentum going.
During the Reconstruction Era, African Americans made a lot of headway in America and most importantly the South. They wanted reform and a better life for themselves and their people, so they spoke up, came together, and formed several movements to fight for this reform. Even though they weren’t able to obtain everything they wanted, they still persevered in fighting for their rights. After troops left out of the South and the Reconstruction Era came to an end and they had no one to enforce Civil Rights laws for them and faced the challenges of white racists, they continued to make political strides and advancements.
African Americans not only made political strides, but they made advancements in gaining a support system to help with the fight for their equality by unmasking the horrors of the South and by joining white alliances to further carryout their agendas. Unfortunately, Black Populism in the end died and did not obtain all of their goals and with the collapse of Black Populism came the reawakening of Southern Democracy. With Southern Democracy came Jim Crow laws, higher violence against African Americans, advanced prejudice, and the formation of terroristic groups against Black people. During this time, if you lived in the South and your skin was Black you had little to no Civil Rights. Due to this, African Americans migrated once again to escape the South in hopes of a more prosperous future filled with civil and political equality.
Much like the Exoduster migration, African Americans uprooted their lives from the South and moved North. However, the difference between the Exoduster migration was that this migration was far greater and is known as the Great Migration. Not all African Americans left the South though, many stayed and lived with the wrath of Jim Crow, but because they stayed, the Civil Rights Movement was able to take way and finally bring reform to the South and change the lives of African Americans everywhere. Even though the era of Black Populism did not accomplish everything they fought for, they made incredible strides for the advancement of Black People and they did it coming from something worse than nothing; slavery.