The sole purpose of Reconstruction was to reinstate southern states into the Union once more, while also altering the experience of African American's in society. Beginning before the Civil War, Reconstruction was planned to begin in 1863 under President Abraham Lincoln. He installed the Emancipation Proclamation (1862) shortly before this, deeming that slavery be abolished in the United States. Much to America's dismay, only a portion of slaves were freed, leaving over seven hundred thousand left in servitude in Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and areas of Louisiana, Tennessee, and Virginia that were occupied by the Union.
The Thirteenth Amendment was enacted by Congress on January 31, 1865, in hopes of legally abolishing slavery but there was an exception: "except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." It set four million slaves free in North America within a year after being ratified by states.
On April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was brutally shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes Booth, while they watched a performance of Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater. Vice President Andrew Johnson, a racist constructionist, was then sworn into presidency in April of 1865 by the executive office. His Reconstruction plans ensured: the 13th amendment was ratified, Confederate debts were revoked, and southern states were no longer in succession from the U.S.
Black Codes were passed in South Carolina and Mississippi, which restricted African Americans and heavily controlled them economically and socially. For many, Black Codes were just another form of slavery that kept racist values intact for decades to come. While, African Americans could own property, get married, and make contracts, they were denied of basic civil rights, such as serving on juries/state militias or engaging in testimonies against white people. Orphans could be sent to their previous enslavers.
African Americans were more prone to being criminalized under the Black Codes. In Mississippi, vagrancy laws made it possible for freedman to be arrested and fined if they didn't carry employment papers to prove they worked. Sheriffs had the right to hire out their prisoner to people who agreed to pay the tax, if the fine wasn't paid. Other forms of vagrancy laws allowed the South to have control over Black labor, resembling slavery.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress wanted to protect freed slaves and aimed to strengthen their relationship with the South. Thaddeus Stevens, a Republican congressman, believed in racial equality, but many other republicans made decisions that were influenced by their political party. In response, Republicans in Congress established the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that defined all American-born residents as citizens. Native Americans were excluded from this act.
The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted on June 13, 1866, repealing the Dred Scott decision, granting citizenship, denying due process, and discrimination. On July 9, 1868 the 14th amendment was ratified, ensuring birthright citizenship and that everyone was equally protected by laws. President Johnson was racist, therefore he vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and opposed the 14th amendment, but his veto was overrode by Republicans in congress. This led the first Reconstruction Act to be passed in 1967. This split the South into five military districts, giving African Americans more rights with the abolishment of Black Codes and the ratification of the 14th amendment. Congress even failed to impeach President Johnson.
Ulysses S. Grant, a former Union General, ran in the 1868 presidential election as the republican candidate, where he promoted the slogan "Let Us Have Peace." Horatio Seymour ran as the democratic candidate, pledging to repeal Reconstruction, but because of votes from black southerners, Grant won most of the votes.
Reconstruction led many African Americans to run for positions of power, resulting in African Americans winning elections for the first time all across the South. Black delegates called for public schools in the South, and were established by the end of the Reconstruction period, along with mental asylums, hospitals, orphanages, and prisons. In Mississippi, Hiram Revels and Blanche K. Bruce served as U.S. senators. Over 270 African American men became postmasters, customs officials, assessors, and ambassadors. In Louisiana, P.B.S. Pinchback served as the state's governor for thirty-four days after the previous governor was impeached and suspended from his position. In South Carolina, African Americans made up a majority of the House of Representatives.
Many African Americans, who were freed before the Civil War, were wealthy and educated, living in South Carolina, Virginia, and Louisiana. Before the Civil War, James D. Porter of Georgia managed to help free slaves and/or teach them to read, but people like Antoine Dubuclet (Louisiana) and William Breedlove (Virginia), would enslave laborers. Even so, most African American were freed during the Civil War. Some notable names include: Emanuel Fortune, a shoemaker from Florida; James D. Lynch, a minister from Mississippi; and William V. Turner, teacher from Alabama.
General William T. Sherman ensued the Special Field Order No. 15, where land in Georgia and South Carolina was made a homestead for freed people. Sadly, he didn't have the authority to put this order into full effect. In another attempt to redistribute land to former slaves, the Freedmen's Bureau policy was suggested by commissioner General Oliver O. Howard. Agents of the bureau held meetings with freedmen in the South, urging them to plan to return to working for their former enslavers as wage laborers, after the Freedmen's Bureau policy reversed and collapsed. General Howard informed as much of the Black population as he could about the policy change, as well. His commissioner responded with: "we were promised Homesteads by the government. . . . You ask us to forgive the land owners of our island. . . .The man who tied me to a tree and gave me 39 lashes and who stripped and flogged my mother and my sister . . . that man I cannot well forgive. Does it look as if he has forgiven me, seeing how he tries to keep me in a condition of helplessness?” By 1866, the Confederates were given back their previous land.
For those freedmen who were able to leave the plantations, they searched for family members who had been sold away. Ads and newspapers were now filled with long-lost relatives in hopes of reunifying families. The government became set on allowing African American's to unionize with formal wedding ceremonies and become responsible for their own homes. This supported the goal of keeping African American women and children away from solely depending on the government to live.
Education remained a prominent part of freepeople's lives as they read the Bible more intensely and attended classes at night or on Sundays. Some schools were merely a single room with about fifty students. Churches began housing schoolhouses. Ages varied from three to eighty in the classrooms. Booker T. Washington, a prominent educator and reformer in the African American community, acknowledged, “it was a whole race trying to go to school. Few were too young, and none too old, to make the attempt to learn.” African American's in the South created political and organizational skills that developed into anti-racist politics and antislavery organizations turned church associations.
The Virginia Baptist State Convention and the Consolidated American Baptist Missionary Convention contributed to the rise in Baptism, which became the fasted growing denomination and advocated for Black political participation. Preaching remained popular in the South, among rural African American churches, as it provided more emphasis. In the north, urban African Americans preferred an educated ministry with a more ordered worship.
Leaders of the Baptist Woman's Convention, Nannie Helen Burroughs and Virginia Broughton, advocated for protection of Black women from sexual violence from white men, which was a major concern and highly vocalized during the early Reconstruction era. Women in churches continued to fight for equality and to gain more authority in churches. On the bright side, women could vote in church meetings.
In Black churches, many ministers were also political leaders and held positions in office. Churches were not only a place of worship, but also community centers that were often the largest buildings in a town. Topics like gender roles, cultural values, practices, norms, and political engagement were all open for discussion and conflict in African American churches. While communal and political engagement was opening doors for African Americans everywhere, the rise of Jim Crow laws posed a threat to their rights and freedom.