The Civil War brought many changes to the political and social environment of the United States, but the most significant of them was granting rights to African Americans. In 1863, President Lincoln introduced Emancipation Proclamation, which declared all slaves free in the Union-controlled territories. This established the foundation for further expansion of the rights of African Americans during the Reconstruction era. Millions of freedmen and women entered the social and economic life of the country as legitimate citizens, many of them were given 40 acres of land, which allowed them to sustain their life independently. The decision to grant freedom to African Americans had both positive implications for the black community, including the right to vote and improved education level, and negative ones such as the emergence of the KKK.
Despite the adoption of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States, the southern states still often denied black people their rights. In 1866, Congress passed the 14th Amendment that granted citizenship and provided equal protection of the laws to every person born in the United States. Yet, the Amendment stayed inactive until 1868 when Congress, controlled by the Radical Republicans, forced the Southern States to ratify it. This has led to black men getting the right to vote, according to the statistics presented in the documentary, in the beginning of 1867, fewer than 1% of all black men could vote. Thanks to the actions of activists and army officers that registered the African Americans to vote, by the end of the year, this figure rose to more than 80%. Thus, former slaves now could actively participate in the political life of the country, elect their candidates, and be elected.
The Reconstruction Era’s laws allowed African Americans to receive education and establish schools, increasing the level of literacy ensured that they would stay independent, free, and move towards achieving more equality. State legislatures where black and white men worked together were in charge of building free public schools, which had not existed before in the South. There was a significant increase in demand for black teachers, which led to the establishment of many black universities, for example, Fisk University. Becoming educated was extremely important for African Americans since it guaranteed them a better future and a more active involvement with the country’s political agenda.
The growing influence of African Americans as politicians, business people, and activists provoked white supremacists, namely in the South, to turn to terrorism against black people. According to the information provided in the lecture, “The Ku Klux Klan murdered an estimated 20,000 African Americans between 1868 and 1876.” This shows that despite all the amendments guaranteeing equality and protection of the rights, black citizens were still at risk of being killed just for the color of their skin. Often these acts of violence were caused by white racists being jealous of the success achieved by black individuals and families.
The rights granted to African Americans during the Reconstruction period allowed many black people to participate in the social and political life of the country. The new amendments were ratified to ensure that they were free, equally protected, and could vote. More black people began to receive education, including in the public schools, established with the help of state legislatures where black men were among the members. The success of the black community did not sit well with white supremacists who often terrorized and murdered African American people. Thus, granting freedom to African Americans was a significant event in American history, which had many implications, both positive and negative.