You have examined cartoons by Thomas Nast about Reconstruction, and you have read about both the post-war debate about the freedmen and the sharecropping system that replaced slavery. This section adds the text of the three Constitutional amendments passed after the war, an example of a discriminatory local ‘Black Code’ from Louisiana, and two more eyewitness accounts about the condition of Reconstruction-era African Americans. Use these documents and others you have read to decide whether Blacks were really free during this period in American history.
The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments
Source: The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution are sometimes called the “Reconstruction Amendments.” They were passed in order to abolish slavery and to establish the rights of former slaves.(Figure below).
The 13th Amendment
13th Amendment: 1865
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
14th Amendment: 1868
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction (laws) 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 (limit) the privileges or immunities (rights) 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.
15th Amendment: 1870
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Sourcing: When were the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments passed?
Contextualization: What was going on in the United States at this time?
Close Reading: What rights did the amendments guarantee for American citizens?
Source: An example of “Black Codes,” from laws passed in Opelousas, Louisiana immediately after the Civil War.
In the years following the Civil War--throughout the South--state, city, and town governments passed laws to restrict the rights of free African-American men and women. These laws were often called “Black Codes.”
No negro or freedmen shall be allowed to come within the limits of the town of Opelousas without special permission from his employers…. Whoever breaks this law will go to jail and work for two days on the public streets, or pay a fine of five dollars. No negro or freedman shall be permitted to rent or keep a house in town under any circumstances. No negro or freedman shall live within the town who does not work for some white person or former owner. No public meetings of negroes or freedmen shall be allowed within the town. No freedman shall be allowed to carry firearms, or any kind of weapons. No freedman shall sell or exchange any article of merchandise within the limits of Opelousas without permission in writing from his employer.
Henry Adams Statement
Source: Excerpt from Senate Report 693, 46th Congress, 2nd Session (1880). Former slave Henry Adams made this statement before the U.S. government in 1880 about the early days of his freedom after the Civil War.
In September I asked the boss to let me go to the city of Shreveport. He said, “All right, when will you come back?" I told him “next week.” He said, "You had better carry a pass." I said, "I will see whether I am free by going without a pass."
I met four white men about six miles south of town. One of them asked me who I belonged to. I told him no one. So him and two others struck me with a stick and told me they were going to kill me and every other Negro who told them that they did not belong to anyone. They left me and I then went on to Shreveport. I saw over twelve colored men and women, beat, shot and hung between there and Shreveport.
Sunday I went back home. The boss was not at home. I asked the madame (the boss’s wife), “where was the boss?” She said, “You should say 'master'. You all are not free… and you shall call every white lady 'missus' and every white man 'master.'”
During the same week the madame took a stick and beat one of the young colored girls, who was about fifteen years of age. The boss came the next day and whipped the same girl nearly to death…After the whipping a large number of young colored people decided to leave that place for Shreveport. (On our way), out came about forty armed white men and shot at us and took my horse. They said they were going to kill everyone they found leaving their masters.
Report by a Northern White Man
Source: Sydney Andrews, a Northern white man, quoted in the Joint Report on Reconstruction, 1866
In 1865 the United States government created the Freedmen’s Bureau to help former slaves in Southern states. The Freedmen’s Bureau helped people by providing medical supplies, health care and establishing schools. The creation of schools for former slaves was an important part of Reconstruction. Before the Civil War, Southern states outlawed the teaching of reading and writing to slaves.
Many of the negroes…common plantation negroes, and workers in the towns and villages, were supporting little schools themselves. Everywhere I found them hoping to get their children into schools. I often noticed that workers in stores and men working in warehouses, and cart drivers on the streets, had spelling books with them, and were studying them during the time they were not working. Go outside any large town in the south, and you will see children and in many cases grown negroes, sitting in the sun alongside their cabins studying.