Reconstruction Act Of 1867 Essay Writer

The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship
Reconstruction and Its Aftermath

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Sections:Slavery—The Peculiar Institution | Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period | Abolition, Anti-Slavery Movements, and the Rise of the Sectional Controversy | The Civil War | Reconstruction and Its Aftermath | The Booker T. Washington Era | World War I and Postwar Society | The Depression, The New Deal, and World War II | The Civil Rights Era

The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freed African Americans in rebel states, and after the Civil War, the Thirteenth Amendment emancipated all U.S. slaves wherever they were. As a result, the mass of Southern blacks now faced the difficulty Northern blacks had confronted—that of a free people surrounded by many hostile whites. One freedman, Houston Hartsfield Holloway, wrote, “For we colored people did not know how to be free and the white people did not know how to have a free colored person about them.”

Even after the Emancipation Proclamation, two more years of war, service by African American troops, and the defeat of the Confederacy, the nation was still unprepared to deal with the question of full citizenship for its newly freed black population. The Reconstruction implemented by Congress, which lasted from 1866 to 1877, was aimed at reorganizing the Southern states after the Civil War, providing the means for readmitting them into the Union, and defining the means by which whites and blacks could live together in a nonslave society. The South, however, saw Reconstruction as a humiliating, even vengeful imposition and did not welcome it.

During the years after the war, black and white teachers from the North and South, missionary organizations, churches and schools worked tirelessly to give the emancipated population the opportunity to learn. Former slaves of every age took advantage of the opportunity to become literate. Grandfathers and their grandchildren sat together in classrooms seeking to obtain the tools of freedom.

After the Civil War, with the protection of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, African Americans enjoyed a period when they were allowed to vote, actively participate in the political process, acquire the land of former owners, seek their own employment, and use public accommodations. Opponents of this progress, however, soon rallied against the former slaves' freedom and began to find means for eroding the gains for which many had shed their blood.

Forever Free

Celebration of Emancipation

Thomas Nast's depiction of emancipation at the end of the Civil War envisions the future of free blacks in the U.S. and contrasts it with various cruelties of the institution of slavery.

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Victorious Soldiers Return

Alfred Waud's drawing captures the exuberance of the Little Rock, Arkansas, African American community as the U. S. Colored Troops returned home at the end of the Civil War. The victorious soldiers are joyously greeted by women and children.

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Alfred R. Waud. Mustered Out. Little Rock, Arkansas, April 20, 1865. Drawing. Chinese white on green paper. Published in Harper's Weekly, May 19, 1866. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-175 (5–1)

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Black Exodus

Black Exodus to Kansas

During Reconstruction freed slaves began to leave the South. One such group, originally from Kentucky, established the community of Nicodemus in 1877 in Graham County on the high, arid plains of northwestern Kansas. However, because of several crop failures and resentment from the county's white settlers, all but a few homesteaders abandoned their claims. A rising population of 500 in 1880 had declined to less than 200 by 1910.

A page of photographs and a township map from a 1906 county land ownership atlas provide evidence that some of these black migrants still owned land in and around this small village. Their impressive determination in an area with few good natural resou rces has resulted in the only surviving all-black community in Kansas.

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  • Standard Atlas of Graham Co. Kansas, Including a Plat Book of the Villages, Cities, and Townships. Lithograph map. Chicago: A. Ogle, 1906. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (5–8a)

  • Standard Atlas of Graham Co. Kansas, Including a Plat Book of the Villages, Cities, and Townships. Index of families in Nicodemus. Chicago: A. Ogle, 1906. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (5–8b)

Ho For Kansas!

The Nicodemus Town Company was incorporated in 1877 by six black and two white Kansans. It was the oldest of about twenty towns established predominately for blacks in the West. After the Civil War there was a general exodus of blacks from the South. These migrants became known as "Exodusters" and the migration became known as the “Exoduster” movement. Some applied to be part of colonization projects to Liberia and locations outside the United States; others were willing to move north and west. Benjamin Singleton led an exodus of African Americans from various points in the South to Kansas.

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African American Population Distribution, 1890

African American population distribution and migration patterns can be traced using maps published in the statistical atlases prepared by the U. S. Census Bureau for each decennial census from 1870 to 1920. The atlas for the 1890 census includes this map showing the percentage of “colored” to the total population for each county. Although the heaviest concentrations are overwhelmingly in Maryland, Virginia, and the southeastern states, there appear to be emerging concentrations in the northern urban areas (New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Toledo, and Chicago), southern Ohio, central Missouri, eastern Kansas, and scattered areas in the West (Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California), reflecting migration patterns that began during Reconstruction.

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Fruits of Reconstruction

Freed Persons Receive Wages From Former Owner

Some emancipated slaves quickly fled from the neighborhood of their owners, while others became wage laborers for former owners. Most importantly, African Americans could make choices for themselves about where they labored and the type of work they performed. This account book shows that former slaves who became free workers after the Civil War received pay for their work on Hampton Plantation in South Carolina.

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Hampton Plantation Account Book, 1866–1868. South Carolina. Handwritten manuscript. Page 68 - Page 69. Miscellaneous Manuscript Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (5–20)

A Hunger to Learn

Prior to the Civil War, slave states had laws forbidding literacy for the enslaved. Thus, by emancipation, only a small percentage of African Americans knew how to read and write. There was such motivation in the African American community, however, and enough good will among white and black teachers, that by the turn of the twentieth century the majority of African Americans could read and write. Many teachers commented that their classrooms were filled with both young and old, grandfathers with their children and grandchildren, all eager to learn. In this image, one aged man is reading a newspaper with the headline, “Presidential Proclamation, Slavery.”

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Glimpses of the Freed Women

Northern teachers, many of whom were white women, traveled into the South to provide education and training for the newly freed population. Schools from the elementary level through college provided a variety of opportunities, from the rudiments of reading and writing and various types of basic vocational training to classics, arts, and theology. This school in Richmond shows women of color learning the fine points of sewing.

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African Americans And The Franchise

The Fifteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, ratified March 30, 1870, provided that all male citizens were entitled to vote. Because the black population was so large in many parts of the South, whites were fearful of their participation in the political process. Nevertheless, the Radical Republicans in the U.S. Congress were determined that African Americans be accorded all of the rights of citizenship.

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The Fisk Jubilee Singers

A series of tours by the Fisk Jubilee Singers was one of the most important factors in the spread of the spiritual. The first tour in 1871 was to raise money for Fisk University. It was the hearing of these spirituals as sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers that first made general audiences conscious of their beauty.

The first collection of the Fisk Singers' spirituals was published in 1872. An expanded and reset collection appeared in 1875 as an appendix to a history of the Jubilee Singers. These editions, which were sold as souvenirs at concerts, spread the spirituals in print as the Jubilee Singers themselves spread them in performance. This publication includes only a single spiritual sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, although the Library's music collections include many recordings of the Singers, as well as published music.

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“I Am the Door.” From Songs of the Jubilee Singers from Fisk University. Sheet music. Cincinnati: John Church & Co., 1884. Music Division, Library of Congress (5–16)

Teaching The Newly Freed Population

Published by the Pennsylvania Freedmen's Relief Association, this broadside is illustrated with a picture of “Sea-island School, No 1—St. Helena Island [South Carolina], Established April, 1862.” May 1863 letters from teachers at St. Helena Island describe their young students as “the prettiest little things you ever saw, with solemn little faces, and eyes like stars.” Vacations seemed a hardship to these students, who were so anxious to improve their reading and writing that they begged not to “be punished so again.” Voluntary contributions from various organizations aided fourteen hundred teachers in providing literacy and vocational education for 150,000 freedmen.

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“Sea-island School, No. 1,—St. Helena Island. Established in April 1862.” Education among the Freedmen, ca. 1866-70. Broadside. Page 2. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-107754 (5–2)

An African American Majority in the South Carolina Legislature

Because blacks in South Carolina vastly outnumbered whites, the newly-enfranchised voters were able to send so many African American representatives to the state assembly that they outnumbered the whites. Many were able legislators who worked to rewrite the state constitution and pass laws ensuring aid to public education, universal male franchise, and civil rights for all.

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Freedmen Navigate Legislative Shoals

In order to regulate the activities of newly freed African Americans, national, state, and local governments developed a body of laws relating to them. Some laws were for their protection, particularly those relating to labor contracts, but others circumscribed their citizenship rights. This volume, compiled by the staff of General Oliver O. Howard, the director of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands—usually called the Freedmen's Bureau—provides a digest of these laws in ten of the former Confederate states up to 1867.

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Laws in Relation to Freedmen, U.S. Sen. 39th Congress, 2nd Sess. Senate Executive Doc. No. 6. Washington: War Department, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1866-67. Pamphlet. Law Library, Library of Congress (5–17)

Nineteenth Century Leaders

The only two African Americans to serve as United States Senators in the nineteenth century were Blanche K. Bruce and Hiram Revels, both of Mississippi. Frederick Douglass was appointed to several important governmental positions in the years after the Civil War, including Minister Resident and Counsel General to Haiti, Recorder of Deeds, and U. S. Marshall.

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African American Men in Government

The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave the vote to all male citizens regardless of color or previous condition of servitude. African Americans became involved in the political process not only as voters but also as governmental representatives at the local, state and national level. Although their elections were often contested by whites, and members of the legislative bodies were usually reluctant to receive them, many African American men ably served their country during Reconstruction. Pictured here are Senator Hiram R. Revels and Representatives Benjamin S. Turner, Josiah T. Walls, Joseph H. Rainey, Robert Brown Elliot, Robert D. De Large, and Jefferson H. Long.

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Distinguished Colored Men

This lithograph depicts not only African American leaders during Reconstruction, but also forebears who had distinguished themselves in earlier years of American history, such as Richard Allen, founding pastor and bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Also pictured are Frederick Douglass, Robert Brown Elliot, Blanche K. Bruce, William Wells Brown, Richard T. Greener, Josiah H. Rainey, Ebenezer D. Bassett, John Mercer Langston, P.B.S. Pinchback, and Henry Highland Garnett. These men served in a variety of positions, as government officials, politicians, ministers, educators, diplomats, lawyers, and businessmen.

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The Role of the Black Church

The African American Church—A Bulwark

In many African American communities, large and small, the social, political, and economic life of the people centered around the church. The pastor was often the community leader, teacher, and business strategist. Families often spent many hours at the church each week or when the preacher came to their community, sometimes only once or twice a month.

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Activism in the Black Church

This pamphlet discusses the history of this African American denomination, educational efforts among people of color in Ohio, and other issues vital to the African American community during Reconstruction. It provides important historical data about the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.), especially in Cincinnati, discusses the church's diverse ministries, and outlines the denomination's numerous uplifting and charitable endeavors in the Cincinnati community. There is also historical information about Wilberforce University in Ohio, an institution of higher education purchased by the A.M.E. Church in 1863.

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Proceedings of the Semi-centenary Celebration of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Cincinnati . . . February 8th, 9th, and 10th, 1874. Edited by Rev. B. W. Arnett. Cincinnati: H. Watkin, 1874. Daniel A.P. Murray Pamphlet Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (5–3)

An African American Institution of Higher Learning—Wilberforce University

A group of Ohioans, including four African American men, established Wilberforce University near Xenia, Ohio, in 1856, and named it after the famous British abolitionist, William Wilberforce. When the school failed to meet its financial obligations, leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church purchased it in 1863.

The articles of association of Wilberforce University, dated July 10, 1863, state that its purpose was “to promote education, religion and morality amongst the colored race.” Even though the university was established by and for people of color, the articles stipulated that no one should “be excluded from the benefits of said institution as officers, faculty, or pupils on account of merely race or color.”

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  • The Wilberforce Alumnae: A Comprehensive Review of the Origin, Development and Present Status of Wilberforce University, 1885. Compiled by B. W. Arnet and S. T. Mitchell. Xenia, Ohio: Printed at the Gazette Office, 1885. Pamphlet. Daniel A.P. Murray Pamphlet Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (5–4)

  • The Wilberforce Alumnae: A Comprehensive Review of the Origin, Development and Present Status of Wilberforce University, 1885. Compiled by B. W. Arnet and S. T. Mitchell. Xenia, Ohio: Printed at the Gazette Office, 1885. Pamphlet. Daniel A.P. Murray Pamphlet Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (5–4)

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Home | Exhibition Overview | Exhibition Items | Learn More | Public Programs | Acknowledgments

Sections:Slavery—The Peculiar Institution | Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period | Abolition, Anti-Slavery Movements, and the Rise of the Sectional Controversy | The Civil War | Reconstruction and Its Aftermath | The Booker T. Washington Era | World War I and Postwar Society | The Depression, The New Deal, and World War II | The Civil Rights Era

The reconstruction era of 19th Century provided a platform for the civil rights movement that followed in the 20th Century and created history. The aim of the reconstruction plan was to provide economic and racial equality to all the American citizens by abolishing slavery and ensuring the basic human rights to all citizens. However, due to the social and political structure of the period, many were skeptical of these policies and so the reconstruction program failed. Nevertheless, the spirit of freedom still lived among the blacks and so the failure of reconstruction plans inspired them even more to speak up for their rights which in turn resulted in the civil rights movement that followed during the 1950s and 1960s. Reconstruction gave the black people a taste of freedom which they never had before and this gave them hopes of a better future. With the failure of the reconstruction plans their hopes were once again dismissed. And perhaps this gave them determination to fight those who were opposed to their freedom.

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Consequently, the black leaders became more assertive and aggressive during the 1950s and 1960s and this led to the introduction of the various legislations during the 20th century which demanded more rights to the black population.

The reconstruction plans were introduced after the end of the American civil war in order to pacify the people of the southern states. Therefore, various liberal promises were made to the black population of the southern states. The major issue of the civil war was the question of slavery, which was the point of contention between the planters and the emancipators. Hence, after the end of the civil war, it was expected that the racial and economic inequality would end due to the various measures that were taken by the provincial governments. (Fredrickson, 1975)

Keeping this in view various reconstruction plans were introduced. They led to the different legislations to provide political and economic rights to the blacks. In fact, these legislations became a model for the leaders of the civil rights movement in the 20th century. For example there is reference to introduction of plans such as President Lincoln’s declaration of Amnesty and Reconstruction which was issued in 1863, Wade-Davis Bill of 1864, and Johnson’s Plan which gave political rights to the southerners and assured amnesty to the white people. This attempt of Johnson shows that he was interested in protecting the interest of only the white population. His racist policies were a cause for the failure of the reconstruction. In fact, such racism inspired the leaders of the civil rights movement to demand for racial equality.

The second phase of reconstruction included reconstruction by the Congress, Washington’s birthday speech of 1866, the civil rights act, the fourteenth amendment, a supplementary freedmen’s bureau bill, the congressional election of 1866, the reconstruction acts of 1867, second reconstruction act of 1867, third reconstruction act passed in July, 1867, and the legislations that were passed from 1867 to 1875. The civil rights act of 1875 abolished discrimination in the public places. However, later the Supreme Court declared this right as unconstitutional. The provisions of this law acted as a base for the leaders of the civil rights movement of the 20th century. (Wikipedia, 2005) The 13th amendment abolished slavery. The 14th amendment was passed in 1868. According to this amendment all the people born in USA were given the status of citizens and they were guaranteed equal protection before law. This provision impressed the leaders of the civil rights movement as it guaranteed racial equality. This was an important document which, if implemented, would have led to complete liberation of the blacks. (National Park Service, 2005)

However, based on the 14th amendment the Supreme Court ruled that the legislature does not have the power to outlaw private actions which can be considered as discriminatory. Hence, the Supreme Court declared private discrimination as legal. The blacks raised their voices against this approach of the Supreme Court. They obtained success in their attempt during the 1960s when the court abandoned private discrimination. (PBS, 2003) Another important development was the introduction of the 15th amendment which was introduced in 1870. According to this amendment, all the citizens of America were given the right to vote.(National Park Service, 2005) In fact, these laws of the reconstruction era led to demand for voting rights, racial equality, and other civil rights during the 20th century.

However, various events and personalities directly or indirectly opposed the granting of civil rights to the blacks. Although the radical plans such as the civil rights acts were passed, they did not directly address the issues such as the racial and economic equality of all the citizens. In fact, in 1883, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1875 civil rights act was unconstitutional. This was a big jolt to the attempt to establish racial and economic equality between the whites and the blacks. Again in 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that states may provide separate educational facilities to the blacks and the whites and this again increased the racial inequality between the blacks and the whites. (Fairclough, 2003)

The American government tried to win over the whites of the southern states. Further, there existed various racial discrimination policies which affected the civil rights of the black population. Hence, racial equality became an important issue during the era of civil rights movement in the 20th century. During the reconstruction era, the American government compromised with the white elite class in the southern states in order to obtain their support for their policies. This once again led to the failure of the reconstruction plans. Indirectly, this instigated the black population even more to demand for equal rights. President Johnson was not sympathetic towards the congressional legislations and he vetoed some bills which intended to provide a few rights to the black population.(Wood, 1975) The Congressional Act of 1875 allowed the entry of the blacks to all the public places with the exception of the schools. This clause had an impact on the civil rights movement of the 20th century as the leaders of this movement demanded admission of the blacks to the schools. This created disparity between the blacks and the whites in the field of education. In 1877, there was compromise between the southern whites and the American government which led to the premature withdrawal of the military from the southern states. (Wood, 1975)

In fact, the end of the civil war resulted in the establishment of the superiority of the white Americans over the black Americans. Even when the politicians desired to introduce the new legislations to ensure economic and racial equality of the Americans in the southern states, this attempt was thwarted by the critics of reconstruction. (Skyminds, 2005)

Various factors led to the emergence of economic and racial inequality. President Andrew Johnson was hostile to the reconstruction plan. The Supreme Court did not support the pro black legislations which were termed as unconstitutional. Further various notorious "black codes" were introduced which restricted the free movement of the black population. The employment, sexual contact between black male and white female, and indebtedness were declared as illegal. This gave free hand to the white police to punish the black population and led to legal terrorizing of the black population. (Fairclough, 2003)

During the reconstruction era, the white population showed their hostility towards the blacks. This clash between the white and black races continued even in the 20th century. During the reconstruction era, the white militant organizations such as Klu Klux Klan were indirectly encouraged to attack the black population. Due to these factors, the government was compelled to end the reconstruction policy which further increased the gap between the white and black American population. (Fairclough, 2003) The white people made certain statements with racial connotations. The blacks were insulted and denigrated and they were considered by some racist white population as the beasts and not much sympathy was showed towards the poverty of the black population. (, 2005)

The failure of the reconstruction plan acted as a wake up call to the blacks. This allowed them to participate in the civil rights movement of the 20th century and they demanded more rights to establish the racial equality. In some places civil rights movement has been rightly termed as the ‘second reconstruction’.(PBS, 2003) At the same time, reconstruction program has been considered by some scholars as the first civil rights movement.(National Park Service, 2005) This demonstrates the close relationship between reconstruction plan of the 19th century and the civil rights movement of the 20th century.

The various African-American leaders responded to the failure of reconstruction. The leaders stressed on the educational, economic, and political rights of the blacks. The leaders learnt lessons from the failure of the reconstruction plan. They took firm steps towards the emancipation of the blacks during the 20th century. Booker T. Washington emerged as an important leader of the blacks. He stressed on the education of the African-American population and a slow and steady adjustment with the American mainstream. This is because of the fact that during the reconstruction era, the black codes did not allow the black children to study in the schools attended by the white students. (National Park Service, 2005)

One can find direct relationship between reconstruction program and the civil rights movement of the 20th century. Those legislations which were not implemented during the reconstruction era were enforced during the civil rights movement. The various legislations that were passed during the reconstruction had profound impact on the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s. For example, civil rights law of 1866 was an important step taken to ensure the freedom of the African-Americans. In fact, this law can be considered as more powerful than the legislations passed during the 20th century. The black leaders were also influenced by the amendments made to the constitution. (PBS, 2003) However, many of these legislations were not enforced by the authorities leading to the exploitation of the blacks. Nonetheless, the first step towards emancipation was taken during the reconstruction era itself. However, it took nearly another 100 years to fully realize the potentials of these legislations.

This happened with the emergence of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Further, the Supreme Court upheld the Civil Rights Law of 1964. This law prohibits discrimination of individuals in the public places. This has provided incentive to the participants of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The dream of racial equality which could not be fulfilled during the reconstruction era was made possible during the civil rights movement of the 20th century. Hence, one can notice a very close resemblance between the reconstruction legislations and the civil rights movement. (PBS, 2003)

In 1963 the leaders planned a march on Washington to introduce the civil rights legislations. Even after the assassination of John F Kennedy, these leaders continued their attempt and consequently the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. This can be considered as a great achievement of the black emancipation leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., and others. (Norrell, 2005) However, the black right activists still had to face great resistance from the racist white population particularly those people belonging to the southern states of America. The southerners tried to threaten the blacks and put pressure on them to abandon their movement for freedom and equality. There was the attack and assassination of many black leaders which led to further increase in the volume of the civil right movements. One can notice that several legislations have been introduced to ensure the racial equality. (CNN, 1997)

The reconstruction era made the black population realize for the first time that they too could enjoy living as a respected citizen in their nation. It gave them hopes for a future where they would not be insulted for their color. The legislations during the reconstruction era created awareness among the black population about their rights and taught them to seek for their rights. But with all its noble perspectives the reconstruction plans still failed. The leaders kept on making wonderful promises to the black masses and then broke almost all of them. The people were first made to dream and hope for better solutions and then every time their dreams were shattered cruelly. This routine, at one point, gave the people the will power to firmly demand for their rights and not give up till those demands were fulfilled. The false promises made them even more determined every time to fight and earn a respectful life. The result was the movement for the civil rights that followed.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s succeeded due to the existence of the reconstruction program during the 19th century. Thus the civil rights movement can be considered as the continuation of the reconstruction era. The scholars suggested that the blacks were only half emancipated during the reconstruction era and for full emancipation they had to wait till the coming of the civil rights movement. During the reconstruction era, there was the introduction of very progressive legislations which can be considered as ahead of their times. The legal documents such as civil rights act of 1866, and 13th, 14th and 15th amendment to the constitution provided great inspiration to the black activists during the 1950s and 1960s. Thus it may be concluded that without the reconstruction era and its failure the movement for the civil rights in the 1950s may not have gained the momentum required for its success.


  • Fairclough, Adam. (2003). "The Struggle for Equality: Civil Rights in America from Reconstruction to the Depression".
  • Fredrickson, George M. (1975). A Nation Divided: Problems and Issues of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company.
  • Norrell, Robert J. (2005). "Civil Rights Movement in the United States", retrieved online on 22-11-2005.
  • Wood, Forest G. (1975). The Era of Reconstruction, 1863-1877, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company.(1997). "The Civil Rights Movement".
  • (2003). "Black Legislators: Special Features", retrieved online on 22-11-2005.

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