The Civil war era was a chaotic and traumatic time for African Americans, especially those in states that seceded and became part of the confederacy. The African Americans experienced hardships throughout the secession crisis, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. Even after slavery was abolished and the civil war ended, the African Americans did not have the same freedoms, it was as though their freedom had an asterisk next to it, which meant that their freedom would have rules and guidelines. In the quest for freedom African Americans did what seemed like a hundred times more work, for a fraction of what was promised to them, it would be a lie to say that African American struggles ended with the Civil War.
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The Secession Crisis was the point in which multiple southern states seceded from the United States, and created the confederacy in 1860 and 1861. The main divide that caused these states to secede was their position on the institution of slavery, the north was on the side of abolishment and giving all slaves their freedom, while the southern seceded states wished to continue their tradition of slavery. African Americans in this time were hungry for their freedom, and so seeing eleven states create the confederacy with the goal of the continuation of slavery was extremely problematic. The Secession Crisis was a precursor to the Civil War in which African Americans were forced to fight by the confederacy, against those with the goal to free them.
Once underway the civil war became an absolute bloodbath, over 620,000 people died while fighting in it, it was an especially dangerous time for African Americans as well. During the war, African Americans that were free and lived in the north could choose to fight, while those who were still enslaved in the south were forced by their masters to fight in the confederate army. According to a government archive article regarding African Americans role in the civil war, “roughly 179,000 black men served in the union army, about 10% of the army.”() African Americans were prepared and willing to fight for their freedom, and when President Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the states that had seceded from the Union, it would free a vast majority of the remaining slaves in the south, and cut the confederate states off from getting outside help. The Civil War was a time of bloodshed and pain for the nation and for African Americans alike, but it was the first step on the long road to true freedom for the African Americans.
Reconstruction was a time of rebuilding, not only rebuilding the south, but rebuilding our nation as a whole. Civil rights became the theme of the period, how to create a society in which former slaves and former masters can live in harmony. The passing of the Civil Rights act and the fourteenth amendment were huge for the African American community, the fourteenth stated, “all people should have equal protection of the laws.” Certain hate groups arose in opposition of the new legislation such as the KKK, or the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacy group that attacked African Americans and those who helped them especially in the south. The push back by white southerners led to racial segregation and Jim Crow laws that would remain intact, limiting the freedoms of all African Americans, until the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Reconstruction introduced African Americans to what freedom would be to them for the foreseeable future, equal rights but with segregated schools, bathrooms, water fountains, and shops. African Americans also had to endure the renewed hatred certain southern whites had, now that in the eyes of the government blacks and whites were the same.
The new freedom that African Americans had following the Civil war and through the civil rights movement of the twentieth century was freedom in the sense that they were no longer enslaved, but this freedom had many limitations. The first of these limitations was the institution of segregation, which separated people based on the color of their skin, the supreme court ruling that made segregation legal was Plessy v. Ferguson, which stated, “segregated public facilities are constitutional if the segregated facilities are equal in quality.” () The new laws regarding the segregation of blacks and whites became known as Jim Crow laws, these were pieces of local and state legislation that enforced segregation in the United States. The freedom African Americans experienced post-civil war was a pseudo-freedom, they had equal rights in the eyes of the law, but they had to use specific restrooms, and ride in certain train cars away from white people. When compared to slavery this new system was much better, but it was still degrading and unjust, segregation was not why so many African Americans fought and died in the Civil War. According to a primary source in the textbook regarding the lives of African Americans living in the south during reconstruction, “it would be difficult to conceive a situation less favorable to healthy social progress than that in which the negroes in the south found themselves,” just one of many accounts that set the scene for how African Americans were treated during reconstruction.
African Americans endured more suffering at the hands of white people in the institution of slavery than anyone could possibly imagine, when the civil war ended and they were being freed, African Americans thought they had achieved ad won their freedom. What they soon found was that they were no longer slaves, but they still were not equal citizens. This was not the goal for African Americans, better conditions and a few rights was not what they were going to be happy with, they wanted to be treated and seen as people, not savages. African Americans did not find freedom as they hoped it would be, not in this time, push back from whites had caused them to live as second class citizens. The freedom that African Americans yearned for would not be achieved until segregation was made illegal.
Struggle for Freedom in the Civil War Era. (2021, Feb 24).
Retrieved February 8, 2023 , from
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