Despite the progress made after the American Civil War, Africans, especially those in the southern states continued to suffer. Although the brutal relationships with the slave masters ended with the war, racial prejudice and disenfranchisement of the blacks persisted. In particular, the establishment of the Black Codes and the Jim Crow laws emboldened and legitimized these segregations (McPherson). These codes required former slaves to sign labor contracts with former white landowners. Blacks had to comply with these contracts or be prosecuted and forced to work for free in almost slave-like condition. While the Civil War aimed at uniting the nation, it failed in its core principle of ensuring that all individuals, and especially the former African-American people, enjoyed equal freedom and opportunities that were in the country.
The 13th amendment was passed by Abraham Lincoln to abolish slavery in the US. This law specifically stated,
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (US. Congressional Documents and Debates)
Effectively, this law ended slavery in the southern states. The amendment noted that all individuals are created equal. In effect, this law empowered the blacks with the right to have equal opportunities with the whites (Henretta 67-73). Unfortunately, the white supremacist leaders in the southern states passed a series of laws known as the Black Codes, which restrained the effectiveness of the 13th amendment. In fact, these laws were unconstitutional since the 13th amendment applied to the federal government, state governments, and private parties.
The failure of the federal government to allocate parcels of land to blacks made them be exploited and made to have slave-like experiences after the civil war. The lack of allocation of land made former slave masters to allocate part of their parcels of land to slaves through sharecropping. Supported by laws such as contract farming, the former slaves were forced to work for their former masters for their sustenance. In addition, Jim Crow laws, such as the voting law, used the leeway that most blacks did not have land to ensure that they did not participate in elections. In effect, this ensured that they could not elect leaders who would address their problems in the legislature.
The Black codes denied the blacks their equal civil rights as enshrined in the 13th amendment. These laws were simply an act of outright rebellion by southern states. Therefore, inasmuch as the southern states abolished slavery, they still denied the former slaves the opportunity to exercise their freedoms (Blackmon 34-37). In order to emphasize the importance of the provision of full entitlement to freedom, the Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which was unfortunately thwarted by President Johnson. Later, the Congress passed the 14th amendment, with the aim of clarifying that it had the authority to legitimize equal freedom to all Americans. The 14th amendment stated that,
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (US. Congressional Documents and Debates)
In particular, this law granted the African-Americans equal freedom just like the whites in various activities such as owning property and making contracts. Simply, this law guaranteed the African Americans the rights of being an American citizen.
Despite the establishment of the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and the abolishment of the black codes, there was an upspring by white supremacist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1870s. The Ku Klux Klan movements led to the massive murder of blacks in most of the southern states. Effectively, this movement succeeded in undermining the rights that the 14th amendment had granted to former slaves. Generally, the rise of this movement was due to the emergence of fear among white supremacist on the competition for resources and opportunities with the blacks (Gienapp 54-67). Worse still, they feared that some blacks would become wealthier, more powerful, and influential than them. The Ku Klux Klan also aimed at restricting and undermining the African American working class. They incapacitated black economic autonomy by actions such as terrorizing and even killing white men and women who encouraged this economic empowerment. They also destroyed African American social and community organizations such as black churches and schools.
These separatist movements led to the emergence of the Jim Crow segregation. The Jim Crow laws were based on the idea of white supremacy. They were also a reaction to the reconstruction efforts. After the 1890 ruling by the Louisiana General Assembly that white and black individuals should not ride together in railroads, and the affirming of this law by the Supreme court in 1896, the Jim Crow laws were established in most Louisiana. Soon thereafter, most southern States adopted these separatist laws. In the infamous 1890 court ruling, it was concluded that,
“that all railway companies carrying passengers in their coaches in this State shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races by providing two or more passenger coaches for each passenger train, or by dividing the passenger coaches by a partition so as to secure separate accommodations: Provided, That this section shall not be construed to apply to street railroads. No person or persons, shall be admitted to occupy seats in coaches other than the ones assigned to them on account of the race they belong to.” (163 U.S. 537, Plessy v. Ferguson (No. 210))
For instance, laws were developed which restrained the right of black individuals to vote. Specifically, an individual was required to own property, have the ability to read, he/she grandfather must have had the right to vote, be of “good character,” and be eligible to pay poll tax. Effectively, most African American did not meet these terms. Since blacks were not given land after the Civil war, this law by itself disqualified most of them. In addition, most of them were illiterate and did not have grandparents who had participated in elections (Bear 87-92). In fact, most of their parents were former slaves and did not have the right to vote. Consequently, blacks lost the opportunity of electing individuals who could advocate for their rights in the legislative offices.
In addition, blacks got less quality services from the government than the whites. For instance, black schools had more student to teacher ratio than white schools. Their healthcare facilities were poorly managed while those of the white were well maintained. Most of the black hospitals did not have adequate medical supply or healthcare officers. A similar case was also observed in government offices. White individuals were the ones who were in senior positions while the blacks worked in the junior positions.
The lack of proper education ensured that black individuals could only get work in the junior levels of the government. Consequently, black communities were continuously in a cycle of poverty despite their best efforts to climb the social ladder. These segregations also led to the racial division in the US, with the black communities living in poor congested neighborhoods and the white in rich neighborhoods (McPherson112-119). As a result, most blacks did not have adequate social facilities and freedoms as was required by the constitution.
To sum up, although the civil war ended slavery in America, it did not significantly improve the welfare of former black slaves. The end of the civil war united the northern states with the southern states more than it improved the welfare of the slaves. The lack of political will and the white supremacists were the main contributors to this problem. In fact, former slaves still lived in slave-like conditions since the Jim Crow laws limited their ability to succeed in social and economic sectors, just as slavery limited the slaves from prospering in their economic and social activities.
163 U.S. 537, Plessy v. Ferguson (No. 210). Argued in 1896. Web
Bear, C. History of the United States. New York, NY, CreateSpace Publishing. 2016.
Blackmon, D. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. New York, Anchor. 2009.
Gienapp, W. The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection (1st Ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company. 2001.
Henretta, J. et al. America: A Concise History, Volume 1 (6th Ed.). New York, NY: Bedford-St. Martin’s Publishers. 2016.
McPherson, J. The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters (1st Ed.). London, UK: Oxford University Press. 2015.
McPherson, J. A Brief Overview of the American Civil War: A Defining Time in Our Nation’s History. 2016. Web.
- Congressional Documents and Debates. (2003). A Century of Law Making for a New Nation: US Congressional Documents and Debates 1774-1875. Web.