The aftermath of Civil War– Over 1/4 million men were killed with huge amounts of livestock and agriculture destroyed. Up to a million soldiers from the north sent to occupy Southern territory although this subsequently dropped down to 20,000. Black slaves also found themselves to be ‘free’ much to the annoyance of their white counterparts. Altogether the South was in chaos.
Breathing life into freedoms– Black freedmen took hold of many new liberties they had in different ways, including; changing their surname from what their masters had given them, finding and reuniting with loved ones, getting married legally, avoiding gang labour. However problems arose- petty ones- but these did lead to fights and even lynching. Ones of the problems was with courtesy- should slaves step off of the pavement for a white man? Should they tip their hat?
The Freedman’s Bureau– was set up in 1865 but was then closed down 7 years later in 1872. This and Sherman’s Order of the Field was set up to help the freedmen to get on their feet. Sherman’s order of the field designated that land should be taken from white plantation owners and given to freed blacks- each person specifically 40 acres… and a mule! However president Johnson reversed that and a year after the war 850,000 acres of land was given back to the original owners and on top of that the freedmen would find themselves working for their former masters again.
Education– Education did improve for freed blacks- both young and old. By 1870 $1 million had been spent on black education and black colleges were set up including Howard and Fisk Universities. Literacy rates increased too and by 1900s 55% of the black population can read and write.
Religion– There was a big change in the congregation numbers of black people. Before the civil war over 42,000 black people went to a Methodist Church of some kind- by 1870 only 600 of them remained. This can be explained simply as Black Slaves were forced to go to the same church as their masters; when they were freed they had the choice of where they wanted to go!
Politics– During the reconstruction period there was a rise of 75%-95% turnout by black voters. Black senators were also put in power. However black voters often felt they had their arms twisted when deciding who to vote for- certain privileges could be taken away- or in the case of some- they could even lose their jobs at the hands of their bosses. There was also the problem that parties did not want black representatives for fear of losing the vote. White people were afraid of losing their power to black people after maintaining control of them for over 200 years. It did not seem right that a slave who once relied on them for everything could now rule over them. I think I will finish this post with a scene from Birth of a Nation. This scene I believe really sums up the stereotypes of black politicians and the fear that white people felt in the South.
I acknowledge that this film is racist and I would like to make it clear that I do not support its views. I’m just using it for the benefit of highlighting an academic point. If it is an issue I will happily remove it.