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menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

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A Republican "Scarecrow" Fails to Staunch Southern Violence

Throughout Reconstruction, some armed whites terrorized African Americans who attempted to use their new rights to vote and control their own labor. The federal government investigated this widespread violence, and in 1870-1871 passed laws designed [...]

Virginia Freedmen Resolve to Be "Efficient Citizens of these United States"

After emancipation, former slaves throughout the South articulated their hopes and expectations for full citizenship. In this letter to the newly created Freedmen's Bureau, a group of African-Americans in Virginia list the economic and social needs [...]

Freedpeople Describe the Meanings of Freedom

At the end of the Civil War, Northern officials were not yet sure what exactly freedom would entail for the millions of freedpeople in the South. The following first-person accounts by former slaves and free blacks describe their expectations, [...]

Marriage of a Colored soldier at Vicksburg by Chaplain Warren of the Freedmen's Bureau

Because marriages between slaves before emancipation had no legal standing, many couples rushed to have their marriages officially registered and made solemn during Reconstruction. The Freedmen's Bureau along with African-American ministers became [...]

Zion School for Colored Children, Charleston, South Carolina

During slavery, planters had tried to keep African Americans from learning to read and write, sometimes even passing laws against educating slaves. After Emancipation, freedpeople displayed a tremendous desire to learn. Some wanted to read the [...]

An Ex-Slave Protests Eviction from "the Promised Land"

In the speech below, Bayley Wyat, an ex-slave, protests the eviction of blacks from confiscated plantations in Virginia in 1866. Like so many other nineteenth-century Americans, white and black, freed people wanted to work the land as [...]

"Radical members of the first legislature after the war, South Carolina"

Newly enfranchised African Americans in South Carolina, who heavily outnumbered whites, were able to elect a black majority to the state house of representatives for every session but one during the Reconstruction era. Although whites who opposed [...]

A Visit from the Ku Klux

After the end of slavery, African Americans, particularly those who attempted to exercise their right to vote, were often the victims of harassment, intimidation, and murder at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was a secret society founded by [...]

A Sharecropper Explains Why He Joined the Exodusters

John Solomon Lewis of Leavenworth, Kansas, wrote this letter on June 10, 1879. Lewis and his family were among thousands of African Americans known as "Exodusters" who escaped the harsh economic and racial realties of the Reconstruction South. The [...]

A Freedman Seeks to Reunite His Family

After emancipation, many former slaves immediately searched for family members who had been sold away during slavery. They used whatever scant information they had and frequently placed advertisements like this in southern newspapers.