Chapter 15: "What Is Freedom?": Reconstruction, 1865–1877 Slide 1 - After the Civil War, freed slaves and white allies in the North and South attempted to redefine the meaning and boundaries of American freedom. Freedom, once for whites only, now incorporated black Americans. By rewriting laws, African- Americans, for the first time, would be recognized as citizens with equal rights and the right to vote, even in the South. Blacks created their own schools, churches, and other institutions. Though many of Reconstruction’s achievements were short-lived and defeated by violence and opposition, Reconstruction laid the basis for future freedom struggles. Slide 2 - The destruction of slavery made freedom and its definition central to national life. Was freedom for former slaves to be simply negative—the absence of slavery? Or was freedom also positive—including rights to civil equality, the vote, or land ownership? Freedom was contested and contradictory in the era of Reconstruction. African-Americans’ sense of freedom was rooted in their experience of slavery and knowledge of free society. Freedom, above all, meant escaping the horrors and injustices of slavery and enjoying the rights and opportunities of American citizenship. Freed blacks celebrated their new space to do what was denied under slavery—hold meetings and religious services free of white supervision, own dogs, guns, and liquor, and move freely to find work and family members. Many moved to southern cities, which seemed liberating compared to the rural plantation areas. Slide 3 - Black institutions established under slavery, such as the family and secret slave church, and free blacks’ churches and schools were strengthened and expanded after the war. The family was fundamental to postwar black life. Former slaves sought to find loved ones separated from them by sale, and widows of black soldiers won the fight to gain pensions from the federal government, which acknowledged the status of slave marriages. Reconstruction also transformed relationships within families as black men and women sought to inhabit the “separate spheres” of free families, with women spending more time with families, at home, and men engaging in most work outside the home. Yet poverty compelled many black women to find wage work. After the war, most blacks also left white churches and established their own churches. Independent black churches, most notably Methodists and Baptists, grew rapidly, and the church became central to black life, providing an educational, social, and political space for the black community. Freed people actively sought to improve themselves through education, which they hoped would allow them to read the Bible, prosper, and participate in politics, and the first black colleges were founded at this time.
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- Spring '14
- Reconstruction, Southern United States, Ulysses S. Grant, Reconstruction era of the United States