The Reconstruction Period - History

The Reconstruction Period - History

The following events represent the major events that took place in the United States between 1865 and 1879. Its called Reconstruction which represents the reconstuction of the South, but it was also a period of invention and industrial development


Black Codes

The codes were introduced to maintain control over the former slaves


14th Amendment

An amendement to the constitution that guaranteed rights to all


Treaty of Washington

This treaty between the US and Great Britain settled all claims between the countries


Chicago Fire

The most famous fire in United States history. It destroyed Chicago


Election of 1872

Grant was reelected overwhelmingsly despite stories of corruption in his administration


Civil Rights Act

A law that tried to guarantee equal access in accomodations and transportation


Custer Killed

In the battle of the Little Bighorn General Custer and most of his men were killed


A summary of the Recontstruction period

American Civil War

Much of the Southern United States was destroyed during the Civil war. Farms and plantations were burned down and their crops destroyed. Also, many people had Confederate money which was now worthless and the local governments were in disarray. The South needed to be rebuilt.

The rebuilding of the South after the Civil War is called the Reconstruction. The Reconstruction lasted from 1865 to 1877. The purpose of the Reconstruction was to help the South become a part of the Union again. Federal troops occupied much of the South during the Reconstruction to insure that laws were followed and that another uprising did not occur.

Broad Street Charleston, South Carolina
by Unknown

To Punish the South or Not

Many people wanted the South to be punished for trying to leave the Union. Other people, however, wanted to forgive the South and let the healing of the nation begin.

Lincoln's Plan for Reconstruction

Abraham Lincoln wanted to be lenient to the South and make it easy for southern states to rejoin the Union. He said that any southerner who took an oath to the Union would be given a pardon. He also said that if 10% of the voters in a state supported the Union, then a state could be readmitted. Under Lincoln's plan, any state that was readmitted must make slavery illegal as part of their constitution.

President Lincoln was assassinated at the end of the Civil War, however, and never had the chance to implement his Reconstruction plan. When Andrew Johnson became president, he was from the South and wanted to be even more lenient to the Confederate States than Lincoln. Congress, however, disagreed and began to pass harsher laws for the Southern states.

In an effort to get around laws passed by Congress, many southern states began to pass Black Codes. These were laws that prevented black people from voting, going to school, owning land, and even getting jobs. These laws caused a lot of conflict between the North and the South as they tried to reunite after the Civil War.

New Amendments to the Constitution

  • 13th Amendment - Outlawed slavery
  • 14th Amendment - Said that black people were citizens of the United States and that all people were protected equally by the law.
  • 15th Amendment - Gave all male citizens the right to vote regardless of race.

New governments were formed in the South starting in 1865. The first state to be readmitted to the Union was Tennessee in 1866. The last state was Georgia in 1870. As part of being readmitted to the Union, states had to ratify the new amendments to the Constitution.

The Union did a lot to help the South during the Reconstruction. They rebuilt roads, got farms running again, and built schools for poor and black children. Eventually the economy in the South began to recover.

Some northerners moved to the South during the Reconstruction to try and make money off of the rebuilding. They were often called carpetbaggers because they sometimes carried their belongings in luggage called carpetbags. The Southerners didn't like that the Northerners were moving in and trying to get rich off of their troubles.

The End of the Reconstruction

The Reconstruction officially ended under the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877. He removed the federal troops from the South and the state governments took over. Unfortunately, many of the changes to equal rights were immediately reversed.

Top Ten Books on the History of Reconstruction

The pioneering work in the study of the role of Black Americans during Reconstruction by the most influential Black intellectual of his time. This book was the first full-length study of the role black Americans played in the crucial period after the Civil War when the slaves had been freed and the attempt was made to reconstruct American society. Hailed at the time, Black Reconstruction in America 1860–1880 has justly been called a classic. Du Bois history undermined the previous historical works on Reconconstruction written by historians who were from the Dunning the school which openly supported white southerners.

Eric Foner's "masterful treatment of one of the most complex periods of American history" (New Republic) redefined how the post-Civil War period was viewed. Reconstruction chronicles the way in which Americans—black and white—responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the war and the end of slavery. It addresses the ways in which the emancipated slaves' quest for economic autonomy and equal citizenship shaped the political agenda of Reconstruction the remodeling of Southern society and the place of planters, merchants, and small farmers within it the evolution of racial attitudes and patterns of race relations and the emergence of a national state possessing vastly expanded authority and committed, for a time, to the principle of equal rights for all Americans.

In this prize-winning book Thomas Holt is concerned not only with the identities of the black politicians who gained power in South Carolina during Reconstruction, but also with the question of how they functioned within the political system. Thus, as one reviewer has commented, "he penetrates the superficial preoccupations over whether black politicians were venal or gullible to see whether they wielded power and influence and, if they did, how and to what ends and against what obstacles."

Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet (Belknap Press, 2003)

This is the epic story of how African-Americans, in the six decades following slavery, transformed themselves into a political people--an embryonic black nation. As Steven Hahn demonstrates, rural African-Americans were central political actors in the great events of disunion, emancipation, and nation-building. At the same time, Hahn asks us to think in more expansive ways about the nature and boundaries of politics and political practice.

Emphasizing the importance of kinship, labor, and networks of communication, A Nation under Our Feet explores the political relations and sensibilities that developed under slavery and shows how they set the stage for grassroots mobilization. Hahn introduces us to local leaders and shows how political communities were built, defended, and rebuilt. He also identifies the quest for self-governance as an essential goal of black politics across the rural South, from contests for local power during Reconstruction, to emigrationism, biracial electoral alliances, social separatism, and, eventually, migration.

Historians overwhelmingly have blamed the demise of Reconstruction on Southerners' persistent racism. Heather Cox Richardson argues instead that class, along with race, was critical to Reconstruction's end. Northern support for freed blacks and Reconstruction weakened in the wake of growing critiques of the economy and calls for a redistribution of wealth.

Using newspapers, public speeches, popular tracts, Congressional reports, and private correspondence, Richardson traces the changing Northern attitudes toward African-Americans from the Republicans' idealized image of black workers in 1861 through the 1901 publication of Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery. She examines such issues as black suffrage, disenfranchisement, taxation, westward migration, lynching, and civil rights to detect the trajectory of Northern disenchantment with Reconstruction. She reveals a growing backlash from Northerners against those who believed that inequalities should be addressed through working-class action and the emergence of an American middle class that championed individual productivity and saw African-Americans as a threat to their prosperity.

The story of Reconstruction is not simply about the rebuilding of the South after the Civil War. Instead, the late nineteenth century defined modern America, as Southerners, Northerners, and Westerners gradually hammered out a national identity that united three regions into a country that could become a world power. Ultimately, the story of Reconstruction is about how a middle class formed in America and how its members defined what the nation would stand for, both at home and abroad, for the next century and beyond.

A sweeping history of the United States from the era of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, this engaging book stretches the boundaries of our understanding of Reconstruction. Historian Heather Cox Richardson ties the North and West into the post–Civil War story that usually focuses narrowly on the South, encompassing the significant people and events of this profoundly important era.

On April 8, 1865, after four years of civil war, General Robert E. Lee wrote to General Ulysses S. Grant asking for peace. Peace was beyond his authority to negotiate, Grant replied, but surrender terms he would discuss. As Gregory Downs reveals in this gripping history of post–Civil War America, Grant’s distinction proved prophetic, for peace would elude the South for years after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

After Appomattox argues that the war did not end with Confederate capitulation in 1865. Instead, a second phase commenced which lasted until 1871―not the project euphemistically called Reconstruction but a state of genuine belligerency whose mission was to shape the terms of peace. Using its war powers, the U.S. Army oversaw an ambitious occupation, stationing tens of thousands of troops in hundreds of outposts across the defeated South. This groundbreaking study of the post-surrender occupation makes clear that its purpose was to crush slavery and to create meaningful civil and political rights for freed people in the face of rebels’ bold resistance.

Reconstruction was a time of idealism and sweeping change, as the victorious Union created citizenship rights for the freed slaves and granted the vote to black men. Sixteen black Southerners, elected to the U.S. Congress, arrived in Washington to advocate reforms such as public education, equal rights, land distribution, and the suppression of the Ku Klux Klan. But these men faced astounding odds. They were belittled as corrupt and inadequate by their white political opponents, who used legislative trickery, libel, bribery, and the brutal intimidation of their constituents to rob them of their base of support. Despite their status as congressmen, they were made to endure the worst humiliations of racial prejudice. And they have been largely forgotten—often neglected or maligned by standard histories of the period.

Michael W. Fitzgerald's new interpretation of Reconstruction shows how the internal dynamics of this first freedom movement played into the hands of white racist reactionaries in the South. Splendid Failure recounts how postwar financial missteps and other governance problems quickly soured idealistic Northerners on the practical consequences of the Radical Republican plan, and set the stage for the explosion that swept Southern Republicans from power and resulted in Northern acquiescence to the bloody repression of voting rights. The failed strategy offers a chastening example to present-day proponents of racial equality.

In The Scalawags, James Alex Baggett ambitiously uncovers the genesis of scalawag leaders throughout the former Confederacy. Using a collective biography approach, Baggett profiles 742 white southerners who supported Congressional Reconstruction and the Republican Party. He then compares and contrasts the scalawags with 666 redeemer-Democrats who opposed and eventually replaced them. Significantly, he analyzes this rich data by region -- the Upper South, the Southeast, and the Southwest -- as well as for the South as a whole.

Baggett follows the life of each scalawag before, during, and after the war, revealing real personalities and not mere statistics. Examining such features as birthplace, vocation, estate, slaveholding status, education, political antecedents and experience, stand on secession, war record, and postwar political activities, he finds striking uniformity among scalawags. This is the first Southwide study of the scalawags, its scope and astounding wealth in quantity and quality of sources make it the definitive work on the subject.

Reconstruction Era

The period after the Civil war has always been referred to as the reconstruction era. The reconstruction era can be defined from two perspectives. First, it covers the story of the United States between the periods of 1865 to 1877. The second part revolved around the transformation of the United States in 1863 to 1877 through the directive of the congress. An era was full of so much pain and endless questions. It is argued in different quarters that although the war was over reconstruction was still a conflict. It was a fighting propagated by radical northerners. They were after punishing the southerners who were adamant on change of their way of life. The paper looks at reconstruction from these two perspectives.

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The end of the Civil war in the year 1865 gave about four million slaves their freedom. However, the process of rebuilding the south during this era provided so many challenges that the country faced. The president, Andrew Johnson, and his administration had introduced legislation restriction “black codes” with the aim of controlling the behavior of former slaves and other African-Americans. The results of this legislation were an out roar in the north. The outrage that was witnessed minimized support for the legislation that was known as the presidential reconstruction. It, on the contrary, gave a lifeline for a win for a more radical reconstruction by the Republican Party. All this was commenced in 1867, which saw African-Americans having voice in the government for the first time in history.

At the beginning of the war, the president, Abraham Lincoln, did not want to push for the radical abolition of slavery in the north. He had feared that he would push the boarder slave states further into Confederacy, and in the process anger the conservative northerners. The slaves however pushed for this policy on their own in 1862 headed by thousands to the Union lines as the Lincoln’s troops marched through the south. It redefined the notion proliferated by the “peculiar institution” that slaves were content in their position. It was a factor that convinced Lincoln that emancipation of slaves was a political and military necessity that had to be accomplished. It is in response to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 that saw more than three million slaves freed and their enlisting in the Union Army in large numbers reaching more than one hundred and eighty thousand by the end of the war.

Reconstruction was more of rebuilding of a nations notion of slavery. It did not only mark the star of equality that the slaves had been fighting for in a very long time, but also the end of a nations division. It changed the position the blacks occupied in society. All the achievements within this period have been associated with the two presidents that were in power within this era.

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The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy

Use this rich archive of lessons, videos, and primary sources to teach about one of the most tumultuous periods in US history and its legacy today.

In the wake of the Civil War, Americans were faced with the challenge of rebuilding a society that had been divided by slavery and the political upheaval of war. The study of this period in American history is essential to the understanding of citizenship and democracy in the United States today.

Facing History has produced a series of videos and accompanying lessons that will introduce a rigorous study of the Reconstruction era into American history classrooms. Our video series includes interviews with scholars of the Reconstruction era who provide insight into this complex history and address questions of freedom, justice, equality, and citizenship that are at the heart of the Reconstruction.

We have also developed a complete unit that offers 16 lessons and many primary source documents. The unit, available in print, ebook, and free PDF, will guide students through a deep exploration of the Reconstruction era while enhancing their ethical decision-making and capacity for emotional growth.

For further enrichment, we have created writing strategies to help you support students through the essay-writing assignment introduced in the unit.

The Travails of Reconstruction

The aftermath of any war is difficult for the survivors. Those difficulties are usually even worse after a civil war. Such was certainly the case in the period after the U.S. Civil War.

With several notable exceptions, most of the fighting during the Civil War took place in the South. As a result, most of the devastation of the war affected the South and its people to a much greater extent than people in the North. In addition, portions of the South were occupied by Federal armies from virtually the very beginning of the war. Over time, Union forces occupied more and more Southern territory and governed those places as well.

Reconstruction was a period of political crisis and considerable violence. Many white Southerners envisioned a quick reunion in which white supremacy would remain intact in the South. In this vision, African Americans, while in some sense free, would have few civil rights and no voice in government. Many Northerners, as well as Andrew Johnson, who succeeded to the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, shared these views. On the other hand, both black Southerners and a large number of Northern Republicans thought that before the Southern states were restored to their place in the Union, the federal government must secure the basic rights of former slaves.

Conflicts over the nature of Reconstruction led to President Andrew Johnson's impeachment by Congress. Congress was in recess from shortly after Johnson took the oath of office in April 1865 until December 1865. While Congress was in recess, Johnson, a member of the Democratic party, started a process of Southern Reconstruction that included pardoning those former Confederates willing to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. After Congress returned, Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 and two Freedmen's Bureau bills. Many members of the Republican Party objected to these and some of the other policies Johnson put into place.

In the election of 1866, a large number of Republicans who opposed Johnson’s Reconstruction program were elected to Congress and proceeded to roll back some of Johnson’s policies, institute military law in the southern states, and implement measures that reined in the power of the President. In March of 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which was intended to prevent Johnson from replacing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. In February of 1868, Johnson fired Stanton, and in response the House of Representatives prepared and sent forward articles of impeachment. Johnson was tried by the Senate in 1868 and was found not guilty.

35. Reconstruction

Reconstruction refers to the period following the Civil War of rebuilding the United States. It was a time of great pain and endless questions. On what terms would the Confederacy be allowed back into the Union? Who would establish the terms, Congress or the President? What was to be the place of freed blacks in the South? Did Abolition mean that black men would now enjoy the same status as white men? What was to be done with the Confederate leaders, who were seen as traitors by many in the North?

Although the military conflict had ended, Reconstruction was in many ways still a war. This important struggle was waged by radical northerners who wanted to punish the South and Southerners who desperately wanted to preserve their way of life.

African American soldiers mustered out at Little Rock, Arkansas
Alfred Rudolph Waud
Published in: Harper's Weekly May 19,1866
Archived at the Library of Congress

This drawing of African American soldiers returning to their families in Little Rock, Arkansas, after the war captures the exhuberant spirit of many former slaves upon gaining their freedom. They were soon to find out that freedom did not necessarily mean equality.

Slavery, in practical terms, died with the end of the Civil War. Three Constitutional amendments altered the nature of African-American rights. The Thirteenth Amendment formally abolished slavery in all states and territories. The Fourteenth Amendment prohibited states from depriving any male citizen of equal protection under the law, regardless of race. The Fifteenth Amendment granted the right to vote to African-American males. Ratification of these amendments became a requirement for Southern states to be readmitted into the Union. Although these measures were positive steps toward racial equality, their enforcement proved extremely difficult.

The period of Presidential Reconstruction lasted from 1865 to 1867. Andrew Johnson, as Lincoln's successor, proposed a very lenient policy toward the South. He pardoned most Southern whites, appointed provisional governors and outlined steps for the creation of new state governments. Johnson felt that each state government could best decide how they wanted blacks to be treated. Many in the North were infuriated that the South would be returning their former Confederate leaders to power. They were also alarmed by Southern adoption of Black Codes that sought to maintain white supremacy. Recently freed blacks found the postwar South very similar to the prewar South.

The Ku Klux Klan was co-founded by former Confederate cavalry general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. He later tried to disband the group when they became too violent.

The Congressional elections of 1866 brought Radical Republicans to power. They wanted to punish the South, and to prevent the ruling class from continuing in power. They passed the Military Reconstruction Acts of 1867 , which divided the South into five military districts and outlined how the new governments would be designed. Under federal bayonets, blacks, including those who had recently been freed, received the right to vote, hold political offices, and become judges and police chiefs. They held positions that formerly belonged to Southern Democrats. Many in the South were aghast. President Johnson vetoed all the Radical initiatives, but Congress overrode him each time. It was the Radical Republicans who impeached President Johnson in 1868. The Senate, by a single vote, failed to convict him, but his power to hinder radical reform was diminished.

Not all supported the Radical Republicans. Many Southern whites could not accept the idea that former slaves could not only vote but hold office. It was in this era that the Ku Klux Klan was born. A reign of terror was aimed both at local Republican leaders as well as at blacks seeking to assert their new political rights. Beatings, lynchings, and massacres, were all in a night's work for the clandestine Klan. Unable to protect themselves, Southern blacks and Republicans looked to Washington for protection. After ten years, Congress and the radicals grew weary of federal involvement in the South. The withdrawal of Union troops in 1877 brought renewed attempts to strip African-Americans of their newly acquired rights.

American Reconstruction: Success or Failure?

A brief look at Reconstruction and the history of Black citizenship.

“Reconstruction was a period in U.S. history during and after the American Civil War in which attempts were made to solve the political, social, and economic problems arising from the readmission to the Union of the 11 Confederate states that had seceded at or before the outbreak of [the civil] war.” ( In its rudiments, the end of the Civil War brought about endless change to all sides, leaving leaders to wonder what step to take next. The goals of Reconstruction were to remove the confederate governments, maintain peace in the south, and ensure that the rights of freedpeople were protected. However, there is some skepticism as to whether or not these goals were achieved. Reconstruction, after analysis of the events that occurred, was a failure due to the insensitive views southern whites had about African-Americans, the litigation of what black citizenship was, as well as the economic depression of the 1870s.

Despite being freed from the reign of slavery in the South, white southerners held very negative views of newly freed blacks. Southern whites still tried to create a sense of supremacy over the former slaves. They were reluctant to sell them land, and when employed they charged them for living and eating expenses, giving them little to no pay for their hard work. Also, the Ku Klux Klan worked at terrorizing the black people. They held mob lynchings, where they would hang blacks in a ritualistic manner. Black people had “heard plenty about the Ku Klux. They scared the folks to death.” (Mckinney 24) These acts of violence were out of fear and anger at blacks. Fear that they would overrun whites, and anger that they were considered equals. However, despite all the ignorant hatred, some blacks felt that their freedom “…didn’t seem to make the whites mad, either.” (Haywood 23) All of the hatred, insensitive views, and acts of terror against freedpeople contributed to the failure of Reconstruction.

The definition of black citizenship was changed multiple times over the period of reconstruction. Their citizenship was changed for the better with the passing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, which detailed their newly earned rights as free Americans. These amendments assured their citizenship, granted them equal protection under the law, as well as gave the black men voting rights. Although all of this progress was made to ensure the rights of freedpeople, it did not hold up well in the South. “Nearly every southern state has passed separate car laws…” (Wells 28) to prevent blacks from riding in the same train car as white people. Black people were often falsely accused of crimes they did not commit. When an American citizen is accused of a crime, they are entitled to a fair trial by a jury of their peers. However, in the reconstruction era, black people were denied this birthright. Their trials were unfair, and the juries were racist. Rape was a crime that black people were accused of , and many would plead guilty just so they would not face the death penalty. Jim Crow Laws also helped to change the definition of black citizenship. These laws enacted segregation in all public facilities, and claimed that the black facilities were separate but equal. This was certainly not the case, and the separate facilities were nowhere near equal, a result of the whites trying to maintain a sense of superiority, contributing to the failure of Reconstruction.

The economic depression of the 1870s was a catalyst in the failure of reconstruction. Newly freed African-Americans were unable to earn a living, and went from city to city in search of jobs. They seldom found a decent wage, and the African-Americans who turned to agriculture didn’t fare much better. They couldn’t afford to eat, and “…sometimes [they] went three days without a bite to eat.” (Jones 26) “Lots of colored people nearly starved…” (Jones) and many, in fact, did starve to death. They could not afford to buy land from the whites, and when employed by the whites they often went malnourished, a result of poor treatment. “All [they] had to eat was what [they] could beg.” (Jones 26) Black people were impoverished for much of the Reconstruction era, and for some time after struggled to rise above the poverty level. Were they not so poor, black people might have turned the failure of reconstruction around, and had they more financial support they might have been able to make more legal advancements in their favor.

The Reconstruction Era should be seen as an utter failure. Although the goals of reconstruction were benign and set with good intentions, they were not successfully met. The effort to reach these goals was not enough, and too many factors prevented Reconstruction from being a success. The fact that the white south harbored so much hatred towards blacks, the changing definition of black citizenship, and the economic depression of the 1870s were outstanding factors aiding the prevention of successful reconstruction of the United States.

Forever Free

Celebration of Emancipation

Thomas Nast's depiction of emancipation at the end of the Civil War envisions the future of free blacks in the U.S. and contrasts it with various cruelties of the institution of slavery.

Thomas Nast. Emancipation. Philadelphia: S. Bott, 1865. Wood engraving. Prints & Photographs Division Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-2573 (5&ndash9)

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Victorious Soldiers Return

Alfred Waud's drawing captures the exuberance of the Little Rock, Arkansas, African American community as the U. S. Colored Troops returned home at the end of the Civil War. The victorious soldiers are joyously greeted by women and children.

Alfred R. Waud. Mustered Out. Little Rock, Arkansas, April 20, 1865. Drawing. Chinese white on green paper. Published in Harper's Weekly, May 19, 1866. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-175 (5&ndash1)

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History & Culture

The Reconstruction era (1861 to 1900), the historic period in which the United States grappled with the question of how to integrate millions of newly freed African Americans into social, political, and labor systems, was a time of significant transformation within the United States. Reconstruction began when the first United States soldiers arrived in slaveholding territories and enslaved people escaped from plantations and farms some of them fled into free states, and others found safety with U.S. forces. During the period, Congress passed three constitutional amendments that permanently abolished slavery, defined birthright citizenship and guaranteed due process and equal protection under the law, and granted all males the ability to vote by prohibiting voter discrimination based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude (Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments). Congress also passed a series of Reconstruction Acts that divided the former Confederacy into five military districts and laid out requirements for re-admittance to the Union (except Tennessee). The experience of Reconstruction, and the rebuilding of the Union following the Civil War, played out across America and resulted in changes that fundamentally altered the meaning of citizenship and the relationship between Federal and state governments. Central to this drama was the former Confederacy where social, economic, and political changes dramatically transformed the region and where major activities of and resistance to Reconstruction took place. African Americans - across America - faced steep obstacles as they attempted to claim their newly won rights. Ultimately, the unmet promises of Reconstruction led to the modern civil rights movement 100 years later.

Despite the importance of Reconstruction, many Americans know very little about it. And what they do know is often outdated or inaccurate. Historians once portrayed the period as a failure and defined it narrowly as the years between 1865 and 1876. Now they see its broad triumphs and also its long reach. During this period Americans debated profound questions: What did freedom mean? What kind of country would this be? What kind of political system should govern it? What were the rights of citizenship, and who could be a citizen? They struggled earnestly – if not always successfully – to build a nation of free and equal citizens. Small wonder that Reconstruction is often called the country’s Second Founding. To this day the outcomes of the vast political and social changes of the Reconstruction era remain visible across the landscape. One place that embodies the themes of Reconstruction with special merit is Beaufort County, South Carolina. The significant historical events that transpired here make it an ideal place to tell critical national, regional and local stories of experimentation, potential transformation, accomplishment, and disappointment. In the Beaufort region, including the City of Beaufort, the town of Port Royal, and Saint Helena Island, many existing historic sites demonstrate the transformative effect of emancipation and Reconstruction

Reconstruction destroyed the free 'Black Elite'

In discussions about the Civil War, slavery, and Reconstruction, it's often overlooked that there was a significant population of free Blacks in the United States at the time—and some possessed considerable wealth and social standing.

That's not to say that Blacks enjoyed anything close to equality in America at the time—in the South or the North. Most free Blacks were incredibly poor, and racism was prevalent everywhere, even in nominally "free" states without slavery. But as The Washington Post reports, there was a social strata of free Blacks who were relatively wealthy and even politically connected, even before the Civil War.

Reconstruction enhanced their position—at first. But the violent reaction that Reconstruction sparked in the South eventually destroyed the precarious position the "Black elite" had managed to maintain. Terrorist groups like the KKK and the White League waged an angry war of vengeance on Blacks and their white allies throughout the South, and made no distinction for wealth or social position. The erosion of political rights and the establishment of Jim Crow laws and legal "separate but equal" segregation diminished the wealth and influence of the old-guard free Black elite, nearly managing to erase them from history completely.

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