Rights for the People

How did sharecropping, Ku Klux Klan institutions, and the enactment of the Black Codes affect black families living in the South from 1865-1867?

-Mr. h . jjj

Radical Reconstruction in 1867

Radical Reconstruction began in 1867. The actions of the Radical Republicans led to many changes in the South. Congressmen Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens led the way through the era of Radical Reconstruction. There were several motives and goals that the Radicals wanted to achieve. The first and foremost goal of the Radicals was to punish the South. More importantly, the Radicals wished to aid the recently freed slaves. The equality of the ex-slaves was the key focus for the Radicals. It was not long until they achieved their first victory, which was the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. However, they faced some obstacles. One of the main obstacles that they faced was that Andrew Johnson opposed the Civil Rights Act and vetoed it immediately. But the radicals held most of the power in Congress, so they overrode Andrew Johnson’s veto and re-passed the bill.  The Congressional Reconstruction Act of 1867 organized the south into 5 military districts, and the states had to have a military leader from the north, as per the Marshall Law. They also had planned to get rid of the Black Codes, and ratify the 14th amendment. This act also banned confederate leaders from voting, and any who didn’t pledge their allegiance to the U.S.

14th Amendment: Rights Guaranteed Privileges and Immunities of Citizenship, Due Process and Equal Protection.

In March of 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Acts. This act was also vetoed by president Andrew Johnson and overrode and re-passed. This act ensured the success of Radical Reconstruction. (Britannica)


Picture: Map of The Reconstruction acts of 1867

Reconstruction: The Second Civil War Part 2 (HistoryFeed)

Recontstruction: The Second Civil War Part 1(HistoryFeed)


The limitations that the Black Codes imposed on freedmen in the areas of marriage, property ownership, and the legal system were the catalyst for negative treatment through sharecropping and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as benefits brought through the Freedmen’s Bureau.

The Ku Klux Klan (1866)


Picture: The Ku Klux Klan

Black codes gave freedmen certain rights such as the right to marry, and the right to own some land. The Fifteenth Amendment gave blacks their right to vote. That right was soon crushed by the ex-confederates and a terrorist group that formed and named the Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan was a violent organization founded in 1866 in the state of Tennessee. Even though the Civil War was over in 1865, the terror remained. This organization was used against Republican Party and tried to prevent ex-slaves from being able to vote. The Klan wanted to keep freedmen in there place as penniless and powerless laborers. They believed in total white supremacy. Any freedman caught trying to vote or achieve equality were brutally beaten or killed.

Did you know?


In 1873, the Ku Klux Klan commited one of the bloodiest acts of violence recorded during the Reconstruction era. It happened in Colfax, Louisiana where hundreds of former slaves were murdered by armed whites.


Picture: Colfax Riot; Colfax Massacre


Property Ownership


Picture: Examples of the Black Codes enacted in the South

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Republicans fought to help newly freed people get land. “Special Field Orders No. 15, issued by Gen. William T. Sherman in January 1865, promised 40 acres of abandoned and confiscated land in South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida (largely the Sea Islands and coastal lands that had previously belonged to Confederates) to freed people. Sherman also decided to loan mules to former slaves who settled the land” (No Pensions for Ex-Slaves). It is from this act that the term “forty acres and a mule” originates. However, due to Johnson’s Amnesty Proclamation, many were evicted from their land and the land was given back to the former owners. Without property, it was difficult for ex-slaves to develop economic independence. This forced them to have to become tenants and work on white-owned farms such as sharecropping, tenancy farming, or convict-leasing, thus keeping intact the idea of White Supremacy. Carter G. Woodson stated, ”The poverty which afflicted them for a generation after Emancipation held them down to the lowest order of society, nominally free but economically enslaved” (No Pensions for Ex-Slaves).


Picture: Dr. Carter G. Woodson

The Freedman’s Bureau was authorized to rent 40 acres of confiscated land to ex-slaves for a maximum of three years; by the end of those three years, the male occupant would be able to purchase it, which was nearly impossible because many ex-slaves were under contract to work and didn’t have enough money. Most of their earnings were only enough for essentials such as food. Congress did not give them any assistance of any kind.


The limitations brought upon by the Black Codes inhibited the ex-slaves from being productive in society and prevented them from contributing to the economy. Granting the ex-slaves land, then quickly taking back kept the freedmen poor and dependent on the white man.


A painting called “They were very poor,” by Jacob Lawrence, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 




Picture: Freedmen; Wedding, 1866

According to the Black Codes the former slaves could become legally married to each other if and only if they had already been living together as husband and wife. This marriage became legal but only between freed slaves or mulattoes. Eric Foner, the author of Voices of Freedom, states in his text,  ”…any person who shall so intermarry, shall be deemed guilty of felony, and on conviction thereof shall be confined in the State penitentiary for life;…”(Foner, p.9). Nevertheless, to cause endogamy with any white person and visa versa was illegal.

There are records found in Freedmen’s Bureau on marriages that took place in 1865. There was a colored couple named Frank Andrews and Elsie Forrester who got married in March 18, 1865. L.M.Hobbs was the name of the minister who officiated this wedding. (F.B. online source).


Image: The marriage certificate of Benjamin Manson and Sarah White showing their formal marriage in April 19, 1866, and also the names and ages of their children. (Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, RG 105).

Mary Reynolds’ Interview

"After while I taken a notion to marry and massa and missy marries us same as all the niggers. They stands inside the house with a broom held crosswise of the door and we stands outside. Missy puts a li’l wreath on my head they kept there and we steps over the broom into the house. Now, that’s all they was to the marryin’. After freedom I gits married and has it put in the book by a preacher."

Source: The American Slave, vol. 5: 236-246. [http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/wpa/reynold1.html]

This is a first hand testimony from Mary Reynolds, an ex-slave, taken in the 1930’s. She described her wedding before the Civil War and her life after. As we read from her interview, the wedding for Blacks after the Civil War had not change that much. As she stated, the only difference was that her wedding had been made official by a preacher. 


Picture: Mary Reynolds; Dallas, Texas. 

Courts(Judicial Assistance)


The black codes affected the courts in the sense white citizens who killed black citizens or any other freed slave, there was no action taken against them and the white person was simply liberated. There are many, many cases in which Black men, women, or even children were killed by white people and the only records of these transgressions can be found in the Freedmen’s Bureau where we can learn that no further action was taken against their murderers.


Picture: African American vagrants are rounded up in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1864, a result of the enactment of the Black Codes in Southern states. Granger Collection, New York.

The following examples from the Freedmen’s Bureau illustrates the restrictive actions laid upon the former slaves:

Simpson Whitfield, who was man of a color, was murdered by a white man by the name of John Allen. Mr. Whitfield was killed in August 1866 and his murderer, of course, was completely discharged by the civil court. Another instance is of a man known only as Peter (who was also man of color) was killed by another white man, named Mr. Fox, on September 20th, 1866. Mr. Fox who brutally killed Peter was set free. As the Freedmen’s Bureau states: “a verdict of justifiable homicide was rendered by jury on coroners inquest, the man was set at liberty”(http://www.freedmensbureau.com/alabama/alaoutrages.htm).

Did you know?


In 1866, ex-slaves could not testify against white citizens even though they were considered “free”.

Reconstruction After the Civil War and Its Failure:
Reconstruction was somewhat a failure in that it did not rebuild the South and effectively and bring it back to the Union. Another failure of the Reconstruction Period was that it did not successfully incorporate or bring together freed slaves into the society. Freed slaves also never earned rights that were completely equal to those of whites. 

Reconstruction After the Civil War and Its Failure:


Reconstruction was somewhat a failure in that it did not rebuild the South and effectively and bring it back to the Union. Another failure of the Reconstruction Period was that it did not successfully incorporate or bring together freed slaves into the society. Freed slaves also never earned rights that were completely equal to those of whites.