Although the Union Victory in the Civil War was achieved and amendments such as the thirteenth and fifteenth were passed, African Americans’ status in the United States was still very much questionable even though they were now supposedly free. It could be confidently said that they lived similarly to how they were before the Civil War due to several practices, some of which (like the black codes) sole purpose was to, “keep African Americans as propertyless agricultural laborers with inferior legal rights” (Davidson et al. 442). These discriminatory laws and practices, established by white politicians, stopped African Americans from being truly equal by restricting their voting rights, preventing them from owning land, and not allowing them to testify against whites. When the fifteenth amendment was passed it stated African American males were free to vote. However, this was only true to an extent. Southern states found loopholes around it and used it to their advantage. White Democrats actively worked together, disenfranchising African Americans.
In the state of Mississippi, a new state constitution required several things (Davidson et al. 571). A poll tax needed to be paid in order to vote, however it was set so high that most people could not afford to pay it. Additionally, a literacy test was required for registration, but it was quite difficult to pass. Conservative Democrats favored the implantation of these devices, since they eliminated a majority African Americans from voting and prevented them from voting for their oppositions. Furthermore, not being able to own property limited them severely and the book even describes it as the following, ‘Few freedpeople acquired land after the war, a development that severely limited African Americans’ economic independence and left them vulnerable to white coercion.’ (Davidson et al. 447).
Being propertyless, many had no choice but to work for white landowners. This led to the rise of sharecropping, which on the surface offered more personal freedom, however it, ‘was a harshly exploitative system in which black families often sank into perpetual debt’ (Davidson et al. 451). Although it was slightly better than before, this was essentially slavery under a different name, proving that life for them was not any different pre Civil War. The worst part of it all was that even though many different atrocities were committed, African Americans could not testify against Whites, which was included in the many black codes passed. While they could sometimes testify against other people who were also black, this did not serve them any justice.
By not allowing African Americans to testify against whites it basically excused the actions and hate crimes executed by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. People of color have long been oppressed throughout history. White politicians utilized black codes which stopped African Americans from testifying against whites among many other liberties, created restrictions that prevented them from voting, and kept them propertyless, all allowing African Americans’ status to remain virtually unchanged. There is still a common misconception that life after the Civil War was an immediate and vast improvement for the newly freed slaves at the time, but this couldn’t have been any farther from the truth.
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