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America’s Reconstruction Era Essay

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Updated: May 6th, 2022

Social and Government Institutions

The post-war period introduced many significant challenges to the lives of newly-freed slaves. With the emancipation of four million African Americans, the problem of their education and training arose. Three social and governmental structures attempted to tackle the issue. Those were the black church, the black school, and the Freedmen’s Bureau.1 The number of members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church increased ten-fold by 1876.2 At that time churches were the central institutions governing the day-to-day life of black communities.

The African-American places of worship gave rise to schools, which were an outgrowth of missionary missions of several religious bodies.3 Education was the most important issue for black voters and legislators alike. The calls for universal and free system started immediately after African Americans gained political power. Freedmen’s Bureau along with church communities formed a great moving force for establishing the public-school system for emancipated slaves.4 Within a few years after a war, a couple of schools and colleges started educating black youth. Their efforts were supported by the Constitution of 1868. It provided that all children have a right to “a uniform system of free public schools by taxation or otherwise.” 5The movement developed rapidly and by 1877 more than a million black kids were studying.6

In an attempt to create a government institution that would guarantee social and economic liberties and rights of the newly emancipated African Americans the Freedmen’s Bureau was established.7 The agency achieved great advances in a relatively short period of time. Discussing it in 1865, Carl Schurz stated that the organization helped to advance much of the workforce in the South and kept it from “falling at once into the chaos”.8 Even though it was the agency that supported the development of black and prevented the clashes between different elements of the society, it encountered solid resistance from South and North alike.9 The main criticism of the Freedmen’s Bureau was over its excessive paternalism and socialistic structure.

The Black Codes of Mississippi

The Black Codes of Mississippi are a series of laws passed by the government of Southern States in the post-Civil War period. They were meant to restrict freedoms of newly emancipated slaves. According to a clause in The Civil Rights of Freedmen in Mississippi law, African Americans were denied the right to “rent or lease any lands or tenements except in incorporated cities or towns” that were under direct control of the corporate authorities.10

Section three explicitly denied black persons the right for cohabitation and made interracial marriages illegal.11 Section seven of the law placed a restriction on the freedom of employment of freedmen and put them in control of their employees. Jorden Anderson in his letter to the former master complained about not being paid at all in Tennessee.12

Mississippi Apprentice Law made it legal to hire black orphans and dependents and to recompense them with just food and clothing. It also permitted corporal punishment and stipulated that fugitive African-American apprentices should be returned and punished under the law for desertion.13 Thus, Mississippi Apprentice law legalized a new form of slavery under the guise of indentured servant agreement.

Mississippi Vagrant Law made a state of being unemployed for an extended period of time illegal and punishable by arrest.14 Section seven of the law denied African Americans a freedom of assembly. Moreover, sympathetic whites were equated with vagrants and could have been punished by a fine or a prison term of up to six months.15

The backlash from the North and Republican part of Congress allowed to radicalize the rest of the Congress and to appropriate Reconstitution for the subsequent impeachment of the President Andrew Johnson.16


Fredrick Douglass was an African-American leader and social reformer during the Reconstruction era when the rise of black activism created extensive civil mobilization of the black communities and numerous parades and meetings calling for the extension of political freedoms swept the country.17 In his speech to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society he called against the virtual enslavement of African Americans by Nathaniel Banks’ policy.

Douglass claimed that it was a mockery of 1863 Proclamation that defeated intentions of the government denying personal freedom to black people.18 According to the policy, freed slaves were not able to decide the terms of their employment for themselves; they were forbidden to choose the place of work, employer and the amount of salary they could collect. 19

In his speech, Douglass also demanded suffrage for his people. He claimed that it must be immediately extended to African-Americans, as it is the universal right. Most importantly, he also wanted to end the restriction of women’s voting rights. Douglass argued that no class of people can be stripped off of their elective franchise on the grounds of their ethnicity or sex. He believed that it is a right worth fighting for. In the words of social reformer, even if all leaders of Rebellion are killed the government will see a rise of a new wave or uprising.20 He claimed that not only Southern masters will be “surrounded by a hostile spirit”, but also that the Federal Government will be condemned in a similar vein to Austrian and France Governments.21

It is clear from Douglass’s speech that life of newly emancipated African Americans in the South in the years after the Civil War was full of struggles and hardships. However, despite systemic racism, which was endemic to the political and social life of that era, such institutions as Educational Societies, Sanitary Commissions and Freedmen’s Associations stood for the assertion of freedmen’s rights and dignity.22

Ku Klux Klan

The Reconstruction Era was marked by the rise of Ku Klux Klan. It was a violent movement that set a goal of defending the Republican Party by “whipping and killing.”23 The testimony of Harriet Postle serves as evidence for the egregious crimes against human dignity committed by the members of the organization. According to the victim of Ku Klux Klan raid, a group of several men came to her house in the middle of night. They were looking for her husband who had departed before their arrival.

Upon realizing that he is absent from the home, assailants brutally beat the thirty years old woman who was pregnant with a child.24 The members of Ku Klux Klan did not pay heed to women’s plea to stop brutalizing her and even attempted to strangle her. There were six kids in the house at the time. One of the assailants pushed the oldest sun against a wall so hard that a hand-size patch of child’s skin came off of his back. 25


  1. William E. B. Du Bois, “Reconstruction and its Benefits,” The American Historical Review 15 (1910): 781.
  2. Ibid., 782
  3. Ibid., 782.
  4. Ibid., 783.
  5. Ibid., 798.
  6. Ibid., 798.
  7. Ibid., 783.
  8. Ibid., 784.
  9. Du Bois, “Reconstruction and its Benefits,” 783.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Jourdon Andersen, “
  12. Ibid
  13. Ibid
  14. Ibid
  15. Frederick Douglass, “” 2016.
  16. Ibid
  17. Ibid
  18. Ibid
  19. Ibid
  20. “What the Black Man Wants”
  21. United States Congress, “” 2016.
  22. Ibid
  23. Ibid
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