The Reconstruction Era


The Civil War (1861-1865) and the subsequent Reconstruction period can be regarded as one of the most prominent moments in the US history since it marked the defeat of the Confederacy and abolition of slavery. The restoration of the south control to conservative whites (“Redeemers”) ruined the hopes and desires of freedmen for full citizenship. The passage of the Jim Crow laws (laissez-faire policy) contravened the legal protections pledged by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. To a large extent, the racial segregation in the South was not an offshoot of slavery since the Jim Crow laws would prove impractical under slavery. The delicate coalitions between southern whites and blacks did not hold for long and faltered under the quicksand of racism, which decimated the fruits of Reconstruction. Terrorist societies such as the Klan sought to upset Reconstruction and maintain the freedmen in subjection. The paper conceives terror organizations such as Klan as an extension or the terrorist arm of the white conservatives and Democrats in the South. The paper argues that the Northerners and Republicans, at large, should not have been fatigued by the open hostility among white conservatives and Democrats who sought to fight Reconstruction through legislative pressure and racist propaganda. The Reconstruction Era was a lost opportunity to bring real political and social equality, which was both urgent and significant.

Get a free price quote

1st time order 15% OFF
Order for: 00.00 / 00.00


The Fourteenth Amendment was also a milestone in the sense that it supplied formal legal equality through an open definition of American citizenship and struck down bigoted legislations such as the Black Codes. The Constitutional Amendments inspired the formation of bodies such as the Colored National Labor Union (CNLU) was instituted by blacks in 1869 with the intention of organizing labor collectively at the national level.

Reconstruction Era: Southern Blacks find allies among some Whites

The Republican coalition in the South comprised of the freedmen, local scalawags, and northern carpetbaggers. The carpetbagger was a derogatory term delineating the Northerners who moved South consequent to the American Civil War so as to gain personal wealth or political influence. The conservatives attacked the allies of Black Republicans as carpetbaggers implying that they were avaricious crooks planning to pour illicit tax revenues into their sturdy luggage made of carpet material.

The expression scalawag was utilized by the Conservatives to bring into disrepute native white Southerners who collaborated with the Republicans. The background of the southern whites who allied with the Southern blacks was diverse and encompassed former Unionists and nonslaveholders. Although, the blacks became office holders, their influence remained limited. The other problems that plagued the Reconstruction governments included increased economic inefficiency and growing corruption.

The Aims and Interests of Southern white and black Cooperation during the Reconstruction Era

The varied interests that held the coalition between southern blacks and whites together included shared ideals and personal gain. The shared opposition to slavery informed the belief that blacks were worthy of being treated decently and deserved an opportunity to get ahead in their life. Some of the Northerners who arrived in the South were idealists to aid the freed slaves as employees of the federal government. Some of the northerners who had moved to the South and some of the native southern whites who wanted to entrench more democracy in the south through the elimination of property qualifications for holding public office and voting.

The scalawags, who represented Southerners ready to cooperate with the Republicans since they embraced the outcomes of the Civil War and sought to advance personal interests. Similarly, the bulk of the Northerners who settled in the South never went into politics and those who entered politics sought to democratize the South and introduce some of the northern ways including public education and industry. Some of the scalawags sought to exploit personal gain in the form of jobs within the education sector and other opportunities sponsored by the Republicans.

The Inevitable Collapse of the fragile alliances between Southern Blacks and Whites

Since the fragile alliances between the southern blacks and whites largely hinged on self-interests, the alliances could not hold in the face of violence and racist propaganda. The ideals of the carpetbaggers crumbled under widespread ostracism by the white southerners fuelled by sensational stereotypes. The other source of dejection arose from increased southern violence. The whites were depicted as willing to do anything including cheating, robbing, and capitalizing on the prejudice of the blacks. Moreover, the engagement of some of the carpetbaggers and the black politicians in fraudulent activities provided the conservatives and Democrats with the arsenal to pin the blame for failing South economy on the “incompetent blacks and the ravenous carpetbaggers.” The defiant white Southerners established a number of secret terrorist societies including Pale Faces, White Camelia, and the Ku Klux Klan to spread terror among blacks and the Republican leadership.

The Reconstruction Era: The Legacies of Southern white and black Coalition

The collaboration aided southern blacks to exploit the potent bargaining power offered by the Constitutional Amendments, especially within the political arena. To a large extent, the collaboration between Southern whites and blacks aided to entrench more democracy in the south, especially through the elimination of property qualifications for holding public office and voting. Nevertheless, the collaboration between southern whites and blacks did not endure the growing hostility from white supremacists. The inflammatory propaganda spread by the white supremacists exploited the rising myth of “black rule,” and served as the leading theme in the battle over Reconstruction. Although, the Democrats later on recaptured power, Grimes County blacks, who were members of the populist Tom Watson’s Peoples Party, still preserved local power for almost a decade.

The Disenfranchisement of African Americans in the South: Booker T. Washington's Call for Compromise

After the Reconstruction, the Federal Government reinstated white supremacist control to the South and embraced a laissez-faire policy towards the African Americans. The new policy yielded reduced blacks to a position of quasi-slavery, which fostered an atmosphere of ignorance, racial hatred, and fear leading to anarchy in the form of mass violence, lynching, and murder. The disfranchisement laws did not simply deprive southern blacks the right from discrimination, but also the voting rights. It was disheartening that Southern blacks enjoyed minimal or no recourse to the courts. For instance, in the case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the federal government showed its reluctance to enforce the rights of southern blacks despite the growing discrimination. The Supreme Court ruling deemed it for states sanction “separate but equal” amenities for the different races, which acted as the imprimatur for the southern states’ to continue perpetuating the bigoted racial codes.

Booker T. Washington rooted for the gradualist economic strategy while DuBois rooted for the gradualist political strategy. Booker T. Washington was the initiator and principal of Tuskegee Institute, an industrial school located in Alabama and advocated the doctrine of economic advancement combined with accommodation to white oppression in the South. The Atlanta Compromise was a prominent race relations concept advocated by Booker T. Washington. The concept rooted for the accommodationist philosophy calling for African Americans’ indefinite subservience to whites provided that African Americans got to enjoy economic independence. Conversely, DuBois, contended that Washington’s policies orchestrated the disfranchisement of the blacks. The term, the Talented Tenth, was used by Northern white liberals who shared the goal of launching black colleges within the South to train black elites and teachers. DuBois utilized the concept to designate the probability of one in ten African Americans leading their race in the world via various methods including classical education, active engagement in social change, and writing books. Out of frustration, most blacks migrated to West, Midwest, and the North cities to escape the unforgiving segregationist laws and disappointing economic opportunities in the South.

The Rise of Anti-Lynching Campaigner: Ida B. Wells’ decline to submit to "Jim Crow"

Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a prominent and bold ant-lynching campaigner, speaker, journalist, and women’s rights supporter. Wells-Barnett qualifies as one of the most passionate defenders of democracy and uncompromising leaders to emerging in the South and was instrumental in the formation of the NAACP. In Memphis in 1884, Wells was declined to surrender her train seat to a white man and vehemently rejected join the crowded “Jim Crow” car for blacks. The initial efforts of the conductor to drag her out of the seat bore no fruit, but subsequent efforts by the conductor together with the baggage man succeeded in dragging her out. Wells succeeded in suit of the railroad company at a local circuit court; nevertheless, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court ruling on appeal. Well’s actions inspired the later formation of the “New Negro,” a movement rooting for an active refusal and assertiveness to fight the Jim Crow laws. The movement drew inspiration from race and class-consciousness calling for political equality and an end to the segregation.


The Reconstruction Era heralded radical changes to the American South in the form of freeing of slaves and the granting of voting rights and right hold political office. The Fifteenth Amendment sought to ensure that states do not refuse people the right to vote on the grounds of race. The bulk of the southern whites viewed the Reconstruction period as catastrophic informed by the premise that the Reconstruction orchestrated the “premature” awarding of political and civil rights to Southern blacks. The cooperation southern blacks and white cooperation flourished during the Reconstruction fuelled by shared ideas on freedom and personal gain. However, in long-run, the fragile alliances between southern blacks and whites faltered in the quicksand of racism fuelled by white supremacists. The Southern populists led by Southern white Democrats exploited their tremendous legislative power to deny suffrage based on racial grounds. The endeavors of Americans such as Wells and Mary White cannot be disregarded in their role in defeating segregation and racial discrimination.


Related essays