Discrimination continues in the South

Within a few months, those Northerners who had complained that Johnson's policies were too lenient had evidence to support their claims. Former Confederates began rising to power again throughout much of the South. In fact, during the first elections after the war, the Southern states elected nine men who had served as officers in the Confederate Army and fifty-eight men who had served in the Confederate Congress to represent them in the U.S. Congress once they were readmitted to the Union. Even Confederate vice president Stephens was elected to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate (though the U.S. Congress refused to allow him to serve). Many other men who had supported the Confederacy were elected to positions in state and local governments. As people in the North learned of these election results, they began to wonder if the South had learned anything from its defeat.

Shortly after the Southern states established new governments, it became clear that they had no intention of giving black people equal rights as citizens. Instead, most Southern states passed a series of laws known as "Black Codes" to regulate the behavior of blacks and make sure that whites maintained control over them. For example, black people were not allowed to own weapons, purchase land in certain areas, conduct business in some towns, or testify in court. Schools and public transportation were segregated (divided into separate facilities for blacks and whites). Orphaned black children, as well as homeless black adults, could be leased out to work for whites against their will. In effect, the Black Codes often returned black people to a condition very close to slavery in Southern society.

"Slavery disappeared much faster than the race prejudice which had grown up with it," Trelease explained. "The firm conviction that God had created black men as an inferior race—possibly for the very purpose of serving white men—did not die so easily. . . . White supremacy reigned in every area of life, so far as the new state governments were concerned. There was no desire to help the former slaves make even a gradual transition to equality. The only significant help extended to the Negro was the aid coming from Northern charitable organizations and the Freedman's Bureau."

Southern farmers and plantation owners continued to depend on black laborers to work their fields.

fgfwK The Freedmen's Bureau

There were some positive developments in race relations in the South immediately after the Civil War. Many of these changes took place under the guidance of the Freedmen's Bureau, a federal government agency formed in 1865 and led by General Oliver O. Howard (1830-1909). The mission of the Freedmen's Bureau was to help former slaves make the transition to freedom. The bureau provided food, clothing, and other assistance to former slaves until they were able to provide for themselves. It also set up fair labor contracts between blacks and whites and tried legal cases.

Education was one of the most successful activities of the Freedmen's Bureau. It created over 4,300 schools, hired ten thousand teachers, and educated nearly 250,000 students throughout the South after the war. The bureau's efforts led to the founding of several prominent black universities that still exist today, including Howard and Fisk universities.

Probably the least successful efforts of the Freedmen's Bureau involved distributing land to former slaves. Many people believed that Southern blacks needed land of their own if they were to become independent and self-sustaining

General Oliver Howard

General Oliver O. Howard, head of the Freedmen's Bureau.

members of society. They wanted to provide "forty acres and a mule" to each black family so that they could grow their own food. Some Northerners wanted to take away the property of Confederate leaders and give it to former slaves. The Freedmen's Bureau did give out some land in the South, but much of it was later taken back when President Andrew Johnson pardoned, or officially forgave, Confederate leaders and returned their property after the war.

They replaced the old system of slavery with a new system called share-cropping. Most black people could not afford to buy land to start their own farms, so they arranged to use land that belonged to white people. In exchange for use of the land and farming equipment, the black laborers gave

Freedment Discrimination
A handbill displays opposition to the Freedmen's Bureau. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

the white landowners a portion (or "share") of the crops they grew. Although sharecropping might seem like a fair arrangement, most black families ended up owing the landowners more than they were able to pay each year. They were forced to continue farming the same land year after year in order to pay their debts to the landowners. The landowners often used these debts as a way to control blacks and prevent them from exercising their rights. In some cases, therefore, sharecropping became like a new form of slavery.

As news of the Black Codes spread to the North, many Northern ers became more convinced than ever that the South was not willing to change on its own. They believed that black people would never achieve equal rights without help from the federal government. Members of the U.S. Congress, particularly those belonging to the Republican Party, became determined to make changes in President Johnson's Reconstruction policies.

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  • AZIZA
    How did sharecropping affect the freedmen?
    7 years ago

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