Wy, it's just ez clear ez Aggers, Clear ez one an' one make two, Chaps thet make black slaves o' niggers, Want to make wite slaves o' you

НазваниеWy, it's just ez clear ez Aggers, Clear ez one an' one make two, Chaps thet make black slaves o' niggers, Want to make wite slaves o' you
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Thirteenth , \ j j. -n.

mm backing, Congress passed the Ihir-Amendment and .

_ , teenth Amendment, which had two

the Freedmen's T , r , , . ,

^ provisions. It abolished involuntary


servitude everywhere in the United States and declared that Congress shall have power to enforce this outcome by "appro­priate legislation." When the measure passed by 119 to 56, a mere two votes more than the necessary two-thirds, unprecedented rejoicing broke out in Con­gress. A Republican recorded in his diary: "Members joined in the shouting and kept it up for some minutes. Some embraced one another, others wept like chil­dren. I have felt ever since the vote, as if I were in a new country."

Potentially as significant, on March 3, 1865, Con­gress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands—the Freedmen's Bureau, an un­precedented agency of social uplift, necessitated by the ravages of the war. Americans had never engaged in federal aid to citizens on such a scale. With thousands of refugees, white and black, displaced in the South,

The Meanings of Freedom

the government continued what private freedmen's aid societies had started as early as 1862. In the mere four years of its existence, the Freedmen's Bureau supplied food and medical services, built several thousand schools and some colleges, negotiated several hundred thousand employment contracts between freedmen and their former masters, and tried to manage confis­cated land.

The Bureau would be a controversial aspect of Re­construction, within the South where whites generally hated it, and within the federal government where politicians divided over its constitutionality. Some Bu­reau agents were devoted to freedmen's rights, while others were opportunists who exploited the chaos of the postwar South. The war had forced into the open an eternal question of republics: What are the social welfare obligations of the state toward its people, and what do people owe their governments in return? Apart from their conquest and displacement of the eastern Indians, Americans were relatively inexperi­enced at the Freedmen's Bureau's task—social reform through military occupation.

The Meanings of Freedom

Black southerners entered into life after slavery with hope and circumspection. A Texas man recalled his father telling him, even before the war was over, "Our for­ever was going to be spent living among the Southern­ers, after they got licked." Expecting hostility, freed men and women tried to gain as much as they could from their new circumstances. Often the changes they valued the most were personal—alterations in loca­tion, employer, or living arrangements.

For America's former slaves, Reconstruction had one paramount meaning: a chance to explore freedom.

A southern white woman admitted ■ in her diary that the black people "showed a natural and exultant joy at being free." Former slaves remem­bered singing far into the night after federal troops, who confirmed rumors of their emanci­pation, reached their plantations. The slaves on a Texas plantation shouted for joy, their leader proclaiming,

The Feel of Freedom

Post-emancipation society in the South brought about the renegotiation of old relationships, as in the scene depicted in Winslow Homer's^ Visit From the Old Mistress (1876). (National Gallery of American Art/Art Resource)

Chapter 16 Reconstruction: An Unfinished Revolution, 1865-1877

"We is free—no more whippings and beatings." A few people gave in to the natural desire to do what had been impossible before. One angry grandmother dropped her hoe and ran to confront her mistress. "I'm free!" she yelled. "Yes, I'm free! Ain't got to work for you no more! You can't put me in your pocket [sell me] now!" Another man recalled that he and others "started on the move," either to search for family members or just to exercise the human right of mobility.

Many freed men and women reacted more cau­tiously and shrewdly, taking care to test the boundaries of their new condition. "After the war was over," ex­plained one man, "we was afraid to move. Just like ter­rapins or turtles after emancipation. Just stick our heads out to see how the land lay." As slaves they had learned to expect hostility from white people, and they did not presume it would instantly disappear. Life in freedom might still be a matter of what was allowed, not what was right. "You got to say master?" asked a freedman in Georgia. "Naw," answered his fellows, but "they said it all the same." One sign of this shrewd caution was the way freed people evaluated potential employ­ers. "Most all the Negroes that had good owners stayed with 'em, but the others left. Some of 'em come back and some didn't," explained one man. After consider­able wandering in search of better circumstances, a majority of blacks eventually settled as agricultural workers back on their former farms or plantations. But they relocated their houses and did their utmost to control the conditions of their labor.

Former slaves concentrated on improving their daily lives. Throughout the South they devoted them­selves to reuniting their families, sep-

_ . """ arated during slavery by sale or

KGiinion of i j i j , i ii-African hardship, and during the war by dis-

, . location and the emancipation pro-

Amencan ^ , , , X u

Families C6SS" search tor family members

who had been sold away during sla­very was awe inspiring. With only shreds of information to guide them, thousands of freed people embarked on odysseys in search of a hus­band, wife, child, or parent. By relying on the black community for help and information, and placing ads in black newspapers that continued to appear well into the 1880s, some succeeded in their quest, sometimes almost miraculously. Others trudged through several states and never found loved ones.

Husbands and wives who had belonged to differ­ent masters established homes together for the first time, and parents asserted the right to raise their own children. A mother bristled when her old master

Blacks' Search for Independence

claimed a right to whip her children. She informed him that "he warn't goin' to brush none of her chilluns no more." The freed men and women were too much at risk to act recklessly, but, as one man put it, they were tired of punishment and "sure didn't take no more foolishment off of white folks."

Many black people wanted to minimize contact with whites because, as Reverend Garrison Frazier told General Sherman in January 1865, "There is a prejudice against us ... that will take years to get over." To avoid contact with overbearing whites who were used to supervising them, blacks abandoned the slave quarters and fanned out to distant corners of the land they worked. "After the war my stepfather come," re­called Annie Young, "and got my mother and we moved out in the piney woods." Others described moving "across the creek to [themselves]" or building a "saplin house . . . back in the woods." Some rural dwellers established small all-black settlements that still exist today along the back roads of the South.

Even once-privileged slaves desired such indepen­dence and social separation. One man turned down the master's offer of the overseer's house and moved in­stead to a shack in "Freetown." He also declined to let the former owner grind his grain for free because it "make him feel like a free man to pay for things just like anyone else." One couple, a carriage driver and trusted house servant during slavery, passed up the fine cooking of the "big house" to move "in the colored settlement."

In addition to a fair employer, what freed men and women most wanted was the ownership of land. Land represented their chance to farm for themselves, to enjoy the inde­pendence that self-sufficient farmers value. It represented compensation for generations of travail in bondage. A northern observer noted that slaves freed in the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia made "plain, straight-forward" inquiries as they settled the land set aside for them by Sherman. They wanted to be sure the land "would be theirs after they had im­proved it." Everywhere, blacks young and old thirsted for homes of their own.

But how much of a chance would whites give to blacks? Most members of both political parties op­posed genuine land redistribution to the freedmen. Even northern reformers who with Lincoln's encour­agement had administered the Sea Islands during the

African Americans' Desire for Land

The Meanings of Freedom 43 3

war showed little sympathy for black aspirations. The former Sea Island slaves wanted to establish small, self-sufficient farms. Northern soldiers, officials, and mis­sionaries of both races brought education and aid to the freedmen but also insisted that they grow cotton. They emphasized profit, cash crops, and the values of competitive capitalism.

"The Yankees preach nothing but cotton, cotton!" complained one Sea Island black. "We wants land," wrote another, but tax officials "make the lots too big, and cut we out." Indeed, the U.S. government sold thousands of acres in the Sea Islands for nonpayment of taxes, but 90 percent of the land went to wealthy in­vestors from the North. At a protest against evictions from a contraband camp in Virginia in 1866, freedman Bayley Wyatt made black desires and claims clear: "We has a right to the land where we are located. For why? I tell you. Our wives, our children, our husbands, has been sold over and over again to purchase the lands we now locates upon; for that reason we have a divine right to the land."

Ex-slaves reached out for valuable things in life that had been denied them. One of these was educa­tion. Blacks of all ages hungered for " the knowledge in books that had been permitted only to whites. With free­dom, they started schools and filled classrooms both day and night. On log seats and dirt floors, freed men and women studied their letters in old almanacs and discarded dictionaries. Young children brought infants to school with them, and adults attended at night or af­ter "the crops were laid by." Many a teacher had "to make herself heard over three other classes reciting in concert" in a small room. The desire to escape slavery's ignorance was so great that, despite their poverty, many blacks paid tuition, typically $1 or $1.50 a month. These small amounts constituted major portions of a person's agricultural wages and added up to more than $1 million by 1870.

The federal government and northern reformers of both races assisted this pursuit of education. In its brief life the Freedmen's Bureau founded over four thousand schools, and idealistic men and women from the North established and staffed others founded by private northern philanthropy. The Yankee school-marm—dedicated, selfless, and religious—became an agent of progress in many southern communities. Thus did African Americans seek a break from their pasts through learning. The results included the be­ginnings of a public school system in each southern

The Black Embrace of Education

African Americans of all ages eagerly pursued the oppor­tunity in freedom to gain an education. This young woman in Mt. Meigs, Alabama, is helping her mother learn to read. (Smithsonian Institute, photo by Rudolf Eickemeyer)

state and the enrollment of over six hundred thousand African Americans in elementary school by 1877.

Blacks and their white allies also saw the need for colleges and universities to train teachers, ministers, and professionals for leadership. The American Mis­sionary Association founded seven colleges, including Fisk and Atlanta Universities, between 1866 and 1869. The Freedmen's Bureau helped to establish Howard University in Washington, D.C, and northern reli­gious groups such as the Methodists, Baptists, and Con-gregationalists supported dozens of seminaries and teachers' colleges. By the late 1870s black churches had joined in the effort, founding numerous colleges de­spite limited resources.

During Reconstruction, African American leaders often were highly educated individuals; many of them came from the prewar elite of free people of color. This group had benefited from its association with

Chapter 16 Reconstruction: An Unfinished Revolution, 1865-1877

wealthy whites, many of whom were blood relatives; some planters had given their mulatto children an outstanding education. Francis Cardozo, who held various offices in South Carolina, had attended univer­sities in Scotland and England. R B. S. Pinchback, who became lieutenant governor of Louisiana, was the son of a planter who had sent him to school in Cincinnati. Both of the two black senators from Mississippi, Blanche K. Bruce and Hiram Revels, possessed privi­leged educations. Bruce was the son of a planter who had provided tutoring at home; Revels was the son of free North Carolina mulattos who had sent him to Knox College in Illinois. These men and many self-educated former slaves brought to political office their experience as artisans, businessmen, lawyers, teachers, and preachers.

Freed from the restrictions and regulations of sla­very, blacks could build their own institutions as they saw fit. The secret churches of sla-

Growth of Blackvery came int° ^ Tn; inucodT

Churches communities throughout the South,

ex-slaves "started a brush arbor." A brush arbor was merely "a sort of... shelter with leaves for a roof," but the freed men and women worshiped in it enthusiastically. "Preachin' and

shouting sometimes lasted all day," they recalled, for the opportunity to worship together freely meant "glorious times."

Within a few years independent branches of the Methodist and Baptist denominations had attracted the great majority of black Christians in the South. By 1877, in South Carolina alone, the African Methodist Episcopal Church had 1,000 ministers, 44,000 mem­bers, and its own school of theology, while the A.M.E. Zion Church had 45,000 members. In the rapid growth of churches, some of which became the wealthiest and the most autonomous institutions in black life, the freedpeople demonstrated their most secure claim on freedom as they created enduring communities.

The desire to gain as much independence as pos­sible also shaped the former slaves' economic arrange­ments. Since most of them lacked money to buy land, they preferred the next best thing: renting the land they worked. But the South had a cash-poor economy with few sources of credit, and few whites would con­sider renting land to blacks. Most blacks had no means to get cash before the harvest, and thus other alterna­tives had to be tried.

Rise of the



Churches became a center of African American life, for social and political purposes as well as for worship. This engraving, which appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1874, shows the minis­ter of the First African Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia, preaching to the congregation from an elevated pulpit. (The Valentine Museum, Richmond, Virginia)

The Meanings of Freedom 43 5
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