The end of reconstruction

An Essay: What Happened to Freedmen After Reconstruction Came to an End?

Reconstruction, a period spanning from 1865 to 1877, was a tumultuous yet transformative era in American history. As the nation grappled with rebuilding itself after the Civil War, it also faced the mammoth challenge of integrating millions of newly freed African Americans, or freedmen, into the socio-political fabric of the country. However, the post-Reconstruction years saw the retrenchment of white supremacist ideology, marked by disenfranchisement, racial violence, and the rise of the Jim Crow era. While freedmen experienced momentary gains during Reconstruction, its aftermath led to numerous setbacks for African Americans in the South.

Disenfranchisement and Jim Crow Laws

One of the most significant challenges faced by freedmen in the post-Reconstruction era was disenfranchisement. Though the 15th Amendment granted African American men the right to vote, Southern states quickly enacted various measures, such as literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses, designed to limit black suffrage. These measures not only systematically excluded African Americans from the political process but also reinforced their marginalized position in society.

Simultaneously, Southern states began implementing a series of racial segregation laws known as Jim Crow laws. These statutes were designed to segregate African Americans and maintain racial hierarchies. From separate schools, restaurants, and train cars to banning interracial marriages, these laws sought to ensure the subjugation of the black population.

The Rise of Racial Violence

The end of Reconstruction witnessed a significant increase in racial violence, especially in the South. With federal troops withdrawn from the Southern states, white supremacy organizations like the Ku Klux Klan found fertile ground to terrorize African Americans. Lynching became a widely used tool of terror, aimed not only at punishing perceived transgressions but also at discouraging the social mobility and political activism of African Americans. Thousands of African Americans were killed in these brutal events, with many being public spectacles attended by white crowds.

Economic Exploitation

Economically, freedmen faced a myriad of challenges post-Reconstruction. The promise of “forty acres and a mule” never materialized for most. Instead, many former slaves became sharecroppers, a system where they leased land from white landowners, paid them in shares of the crop, often leaving them in perpetual debt and poverty. This economic structure, coupled with the South’s increasing dependence on cash crops, kept many African Americans in a cycle of poverty that was strikingly reminiscent of their antebellum servitude.

Migration and Urbanization

As a response to the intense racial violence, political disenfranchisement, and economic hardships in the South, many African Americans sought refuge and better opportunities in Northern, Western, and Midwestern cities, leading to what is termed as the Great Migration. While these urban areas offered better-paying jobs and a degree of social mobility, they were not devoid of racism. Northern cities often harbored their own racial prejudices, and while they did not have formal segregation laws like the Jim Crow South, racial divides in housing, employment, and public life were evident.

Cultural Renaissance and Community Building

Despite the numerous adversities, the post-Reconstruction era witnessed a surge in black cultural and intellectual expression. The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s stands out as a prominent example, where black artists, writers, and musicians produced works that celebrated their heritage and asserted their rights to equality. Similarly, African American churches, community centers, and educational institutions served as spaces for social, political, and spiritual support.


The end of Reconstruction was undoubtedly a dark period for the freedmen. The retrenchment of white supremacy, manifesting through disenfranchisement, economic exploitation, and racial violence, severely limited the opportunities available to African Americans in the post-Reconstruction South. However, in the face of adversity, the freedmen and their descendants displayed resilience and adaptability. They migrated in search of better opportunities, built supportive communities, and laid the foundations for the civil rights movements of the 20th century. The legacy of Reconstruction and its aftermath serves as a stark reminder of the nation’s historical challenges and the enduring spirit of those who strive for justice and equality.

Curriculum: What happened to freedmen after reconstruction came to an end?

Reconstruction ended in 1877 because of a variety of reasons.

Regardless of the reasons, the end of Reconstruction also signaled an end to whatever forward progress blacks were going to make. The success of Reconstruction had been ineffective at best, now, with the
Conservative Southern governments back in control of the South a downward spiral would begin.

I. The End of Reconstruction

A. Reconstruction began in 1865, how do you think
Northerners felt about it by 1877?

1. Northerners were tired of reconstruction after
twelve long years. In the beginning it had been a great social
adventure. Many had been convinced that they were doing a very good,
important thing. By 1877 many felt that they would never accomplish
the social good that they sought to accomplish. The general feeling
was that the the south might never really change.

2. Northerners were also increasingly upset at the fact that the
northern military had to occupy the south. We wanted our soldiers

B. How do you think the Depression of 1873 affected Northern
effort at Reconstruction?

1. The north could no longer afford the costs of

C. How did the scandals of the Grant administration affect the
next election?

1. Ulysses S. Grant, the military hero of the Civil
War had been swept into office after the Johnson Administration.
Unfortunately his administration, as well as his personal life, were
ripped with scandal. Grant, an alcoholic, was unable to police his
own cabinet and scandals began to emerge.

In what became known as the Credit Mobilier scandal key
Republican congressman and members of the administration had arranged
for the Credit Mobilier holding company to received government land
and money to build a railroad out west. In return these men received
bribes. The railroad was never built and the scandal showed America
how little control Grant actually had.

2. After eight years of the scandalous Grant administration and
his rather uninspiring leadership the Republican party began to lose
influence. The once hated Democrats again gained national
recognition. One party rukle ended and two party rule returned.

D. How did the election of 1876 affect reconstruction?

1. In the election of 1876 Democrats realized they had
an opportunity to regain political power and prestige, in fact many
thought they had a good chance of winning the presidency with the
right candidate. The Republicans ran Rutherford B. Hayes and the
Democrats ran a New Yorker, Sam Tilden.

2. Tilden carried the popular vote by 250,000 votes. He also had a
lead in the electoral vote 184 to 165. He needed 185 to win and 20
votes were in dispute. Tilden only needed one of the twenty votes to
win. If Hayes received all twenty he would win

3. The fate of those 20 votes and the election were placed in the
hands of a committee of 8 Republicans and 7 Democrats who ended up
cutting a deal that gave Hayes the votes and the Presidency. Had the
election been honest Tilden would have won.

a. The deal was that military forces had to leave
those states thus ending reconstruction.

b. The federal government had to build a railroad from Texas to
California , building money, waterway improvements and a conservative
in the Cabinet were also part of the deal.

E. Once Conservative Democrats were back in control, what types of
laws do you think they would pass?

1. Literacy Tests – The democrats passed voter
qualification laws that mandated that a person had to read in order
to vote. Most Blacks were asked to read the constitution. Considering
that most had been slaves, and were uneducated, they could not pass
the test. This took away the rights of blacks to vote.

2. Poll Taxes – The democrats passed voter qualification
laws that mandated that a person had to pay a two dollar tax in order
to vote. This was alot of money for a newly freed slave and most
could not afford it.

3. Grandfather clause – The democrats passed voter
qualification laws that mandated that a person could only vote if
their grandfather had been eligible to vote and had been a citizen.
Since most slaves’ grandfathers had also been slaves they did not
qualify to vote under these laws.

These laws were specifically designed to take away the
political power of Blacks by taking away their right to vote granted
in the 15th amendment. This is known as attempting to
disenfranchise the Blacks. The word
franchise means “the right to vote” (as does
suffrage). To
disenfranchise means “to take away
the right to vote.

4. Jim Crow Laws – These were laws passed to separate
Blacks from Whites. This process was known as segregation. Jim
Crow laws created separate facilities throughout the south for Blacks
and Whites.

a. The creation of segregation by law is called
de jure segregation (segregation by law).

b. The other type of segregation that existed in the south was
called de facto segregation, or segregation by the fact
that it exists. Socially, not legally sanctioned.

Clearly reconstruction had not met the goal of bringing about
racial equality.