The was that there must be civil and

The Union was victorious in the
Civil War in 1865 and, consequently, much of the South had been destroyed in
the process. The period after the Civil War is known as the Reconstruction
period which lasted until 1877. During this period, the rebuilding of the South
began. The federal government set conditions that the Southern states would
have to abide by in order to enter back into the Union. One of the conditions
of the South’s re-admittance into the Union was that there must be civil and
political equality for blacks. This meant that governments and social systems
had to be reestablished in these states. Freedom became a source of conflict
during the Reconstruction of the South. It brought about different meanings for
black Southerners than it did for white Southerners.

            Nearly
180,000 blacks served in the Union Army. According to Eric Foner, one senator
explained that the role they fulfilled in the army should be rewarded by “a new
status among us” (Foner, 2015). Black soldiers were treated as equals before
the law, but only within the military at the time. In 1868 the 14th
amendment was ratified. This amendment guaranteed “equal protection of the
laws” and rights to all citizens without discrimination (14th
Amendment, 2009). For black Southerners, freedom meant that they were released
from the constraints of slavery. They were able to reunite with family members
that had previously been separated. For some, freedom also meant the ability to
marry because marriage during enslavement held no legal value. Religion was an
important aspect of black communities because slaves had not been allowed to
read the bible. Black churches became an important part of society during
Reconstruction because they provided guidance, served as school houses, and
were places of political gatherings. However, this freedom didn’t last entirely
for too long. Jim Crow laws were established which enforced racial segregation.
With the passing of these laws, many freed slaves saw the extent of their
freedom decline. African Americans soon began to demand equal political and
civil rights. There were also a series of laws passed known as “black codes”
which placed a restriction on the level of activity freed slaves could express
and ensured that they remained a source of labor.

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            Southern
families experienced the loss of loved ones and the destruction of land during
the Civil War. Many white Southerners reacted to this and to the emancipation
of slaves with concern. For white landowners in the South, freedom meant a loss
of labor and the adoption of sharecropping. Instead of accepting the freedom of
slaves, some white Southerners resorted to violence and opposition. Due to
their concerns, some conservative whites began looking for ways to control
freed slaves. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was formed in 1866 as a political and
social organization. It organized episodes of terror and spread violence
throughout the South. This violence was aimed at intimidating blacks along with
whites supporting their freedom. In 1868, a letter of intimidation was sent to
a black elected official in Lincoln County, Georgia. The author of the letter
claimed that they were a Klan member sent to make the recipient of the letter
aware that they should “know their place” and that no African American was
safe unless “he joins the Democratic Club” (Onion, 2013). The KKK acted
violently against Republican party members and leaders that sought to establish
equality for blacks. The letter served to threaten the official and warn others
that they should change their view on Reconstruction policies. The Klan’s
objective was to reestablish white authority in the South and abolish Radical
Reconstruction. A Grand Commander of the Knights of the White claimed that they
wanted “the white race to not be altered and lost” and that “states to not
be converted into African provinces” (Fleming, 1907). This commander expressed
that these wants should be a right. This represents, to an extent, the idea’s
that led some white Southerners to oppose the freedom of slaves.

            Although
there were white Southerners who resorted to violence, there were many who did
not. There were white Republicans from the North and the South who supported
freed slaves and who were opposed to the Ku Klux Klan. To these white
Southerners and some freed slaves, freedom meant an opportunity for whites and
blacks to live together in a society free of slavery and unfair treatment. Although
Jim Crow laws made this difficult, there were white teachers and missionary
organization members who attempted to provide black communities with the opportunity
to learn. Along with Black churches that also served as schools, some white
church members helped freed slaves to become literate (Reconstruction and Its
Aftermath, n.d).

The state of the
South was fragile during the Reconstruction period. The emancipation of slavery
brought about different implications for white and black citizens. Within white
communities, freedom meant the need to revolt to some people and it meant an
opportunity to prosper to others. Within black communities, freedom meant the ability
to express themselves in ways they couldn’t due to the restrictions of slavery.
It meant that they had an opportunity to obtain rights that had previously been
limited. Due to the many acts of violence and laws restricting the freedom of
slaves that were formed, Reconstruction was not successful in the long term.
There were still many steps to be taken after this period to ensure that equal
civil and political rights were guaranteed to each citizen, regardless of race.