With the collapse of the Confederacy in 1865, Union officers and slaveholders throughout the South informed blacks that slavery was dead. Slavery’s end brought jubilation to blacks throughout the region. Many blacks, including former house servants, once thought by slaveholders as loyal, deserted plantations and farms in droves. These freed slaves were called Freedmen at last. Many Freedmen moved to larger Southern towns and cities. Large areas of Southern cities became black areas. Whites in these cities feared the large number of blacks moving into their cities. At the same time, many former slaves wanted to own their own farms by acquiring land.
The devastation of the South during the war left whites and blacks impoverished. The South became a region largely of impoverishment for both races. The economic subjugation of blacks and poor white farmers through a system of sharecropping left many in poverty. The per capita income in the South was only one-third of the national average. Many blacks and whites were left uneducated. In 1860, more than 90 percent of blacks could neither read nor write. Eager for education, blacks demanded that their states establish public schools. White state governments responded by creating racially segregated schools. Nonetheless, within a generation half of all southern blacks were literate.
The new state governments controlled largely by whites, enacted laws and Black Codes, which restricted the rights of the freed slaves. These laws merely took old laws, enacted under slavery, regulating slaves and applied the word “freedman.” These laws treated blacks as if they were non-citizens without the right to vote, serve on juries, or testify against whites. Furthermore, state laws were enacted making it lawful for blacks to sign annual labor contracts that prevented them from changing jobs under the contract. Blacks, but not whites, who did not have labor contracts or large sums of cash could lawfully be charged with vagrancy.
- The end of slavery did not mean equal rights for blacks. What kinds of legal barriers prevented former slaves from having equal rights with whites?
- Few efforts were made to provide economic help to former slaves, and such help did not last long. To what difference might it have made to the lives of post-Civil War southerners (black and white), if the North had helped with the rebuilding?
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RMP Archive. April 1865, View of Destroyed Buildings Civil War [Digital photograph]. Retrieved from <google.com>.