Reconstruction Era Facts for Kids

  • During the Reconstruction era, people in the United States were trying to find a way to include African Americans. 
  • The first United States soldiers arrived at slaveholding territories and black people escaped and some went into free states. 
  • During this time, Congress made three amendments that gave rights to black people forever.

Reconstruction was the period following the Civil War. It started in 1865 and went until 1877. 

African Americans helped to destroy slavery. They were also able to build a new order after slavery was destroyed. In Washington, DC, lawmakers made amendments that abolished slavery and gave African Americans the right to vote.

The main goal of Reconstruction was to reintegrate Southern states that had been part of the Confederacy back into the USA. It also created many rules for African Americans who had been freed from slavery. 

After this, more radical Republicans won. The Radical Reconstruction helped black people to open the possibility of having their voice heard in government for the first time in the US. 

But then, within 10 years, there were huge changes done by reactionary forces like the Ku Klux Klan and Confederate veterans who stopped this from happening.

Rules, Laws, and Codes

The “Black Code” was a law that said how African Americans should behave and what they could and could not do after they were freed from slavery. People in the North were very angry because of these codes. 

In the states in which people used to be slaves, the black codes were used. Slavery had been a big part of their economy, and they wanted to keep it going.

In these states, white people owned all the land and paid black people a small amount of money for work. 

The 13th amendment made it so you can’t have slaves anymore unless they were criminals. But Southern states passed black codes to make it seem like black people were criminals, and that way they could be enslaved again.

The codes prohibited “loitering and vagrancy.” The idea was that if you were free, you should be working so people were not allowed to just stand around talking without a job. If three or four Black people were standing around talking, they would be considered vagrants who could be convicted of a crime and sent to jail.

The Necessary Emancipation

At the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln did not want to make slavery illegal. He thought that this would make people on the border of slave states go into the Confederate side and he would anger northerners. 

But in 1862, enslaved people said that they wanted Lincoln to make it illegal. So he did.

The actions of these people showed that one of the myths about slavery was wrong. This myth said that enslaved people were content with their situation. 

Lincoln believed that emancipation was necessary and many black people joined the Union Army to support his decision.

For a few years, Lincoln thought about how to welcome back the South into the Union. But he still had no idea when he was almost done with fighting.

Lincoln was going to make sure that some black people were given the right to vote in Louisiana. He wanted free black people and those who had served in the military to be able to vote. 

But unfortunately, Lincoln was killed, so his successor would need to make these plans happen.

President Andrew Johnson

President Andrew Johnson in 1865 announced his plan for a US Reconstruction. He was a supporter of the Union. Johnson did not think the federal government had the right to tell states how they should govern themselves. 

When he came up with his reconstruction plan, all land that had been taken by the army and given to freed slaves under President Lincoln’s order had to go back to its original owners. As a result of Johnson’s orders, many southern states enacted a law that would restrict what the black people could do. 

Many in the North were angry because of this, so they refused to seat congressmen from these states.

The Division Between The President And The Congress

In 1866, Congress passed some laws: the Freedmen’s Bureau and Civil Rights Bills. The Freedmen’s Bureau was established to help former slaves and poor whites in the South. They helped people by providing food, housing, medical care, schools, and legal assistance. 

The Civil Rights Bill said that all people born in America were citizens with equal rights before the law. 

Johnson refused to pass these bills. Congress got mad at him. Later Congress would impeach President Johnson.

People in the North did not like Johnson’s policies so they voted against him.

The Radical Reconstruction

After this, radical Republicans in Congress took over the Reconstruction in the South. They needed governments in the South with people who could vote.

The 14th Amendment granted “equal protection” of the Constitution to formerly enslaved people. Congress also approved the 15th Amendment which said that you had the right to vote and nobody could deny that “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

By 1870, the former Confederate states were all admitted to the Union. The Radical Reconstruction years were when African Americans got their rights in southern public life. The US saw the creation of a new society after slavery.

Black people in the South won elections to state governments. They even won elections to the US Congress. Southern states also had their first public school systems, more equitable taxation laws, and laws against racial discrimination in public transport. 

Black women expressed their views in meetings. They asked questions and influenced the decisions of politicians.

Northern teachers came to the South to teach people who were freed. There were many schools, both for kids and adults. 

Some tours by the Fisk Jubilee Singers began to spread the spiritual singing (gospel) during these years. It was hearing these spirituals as sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers that made audiences conscious of their beauty.

The Reconstruction era was a time when there were many changes in southern states.

Black Exodus to Kansas

During Reconstruction, freed slaves left the South. These migrants became known as “Exodusters”. The migration became known as “the Exoduster Movement”. 

Some of these African Americans applied to be part of colonization projects to Liberia and other places outside of America. Others wanted to move north or west. For example, Benjamin Singleton led an exodus from the South to Kansas.

They went to Kansas and set up a town called Nicodemus. The Nicodemus Town Company was made in 1877 by six black people and two white people. It was the oldest town for blacks in the West.

But because it got too hot and there was not enough rain, all but a few people left their towns. In 1880 there were 500 people in Nicodemus, but by 1910 there were only 200 people in the town

Violence and Racism

After 1867, more and more southern whites turned to violence when they were challenged by the changes that came with Radical Reconstruction. 

The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations went against anyone who challenged their rule. Though there was legislation passed to take care of this problem, it started getting worse because many people wanted segregation back.

In some states, the Democrats tried to take over by using violence. They did this by intimidating voters and trying to force Republicans out of power.

Racism was still a problem in both South and North. Republicans became more conservative and less fair as the decade continued. 

When there was economic depression, many people in the South became poorer, and then Democrats won control of the House of Representatives for the first time since the Civil War.

The new president ended federal support for Reconstruction-era state governments in the South. By 1876, only Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina were still in Republican hands. 

The Compromise of 1876

In the new presidential election, the Republican candidate Hayes talked to Democrats. In exchange for them giving him the right of his election, he would allow for Democratic control of the South.

The Compromise of 1876 ended Reconstruction. That was when the North and South made a deal to end the war. It was not until later that people realized how unfair this was. They wanted equal rights, but that did not happen until much later.

Despite the challenges of terrorism, poverty, and oppression, by the end of the century, a small number of African Americans managed to get access to land, education, and better jobs. Those who were free and had special talents or luck had better jobs.

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