Reconstruction the process by which the states that had seceded were reorganized as part of the Union after the Civil War. The role of the African Americans prior to the Civil War was free labour for Southern landowners and they were viewed by Southerners as property. They worked the land, produced the crops, cooked, and cleaned, with nothing in return. After the Civil War concluded, the Southern States re-entered the Union, and the Reconstruction Era began. This period of Reconstruction was a rebuilding of the southern economy as well as the redefining of the role of newly freed slaves. Many changes in the economy and culture of the South presented themselves during the period of Reconstruction, and even though some may consider the small advances of rights by the African Americans as successes, the Reconstruction was not generally successful. This is demonstrated through the relationships between the blacks and the white southerners, and the failing economy.
The relationship between the former slaves and the southern whites, especially the landowners, played a major role in why the Reconstruction was not necessarily successful. Among the relationships between the two groups were the views of the blacks’ work ethics, and the feelings of anger and mistrust. According to historian Ed Ayers, the blacks were taught to ask for a contract when working for someone else, to ensure that they would get paid and that they would be paid a guaranteed amount. The fact that the former slaves felt that it was necessary to hold a contract with the southern plantation owners, demonstrated the mistrust that was between the former slaves and the landowners. The anger between these groups was demonstrated in more than one way. Hate groups were formed, and many southern whites utilized their ability to restrict the rights of the freedmen. Medgar Evers was a black man who was working towards the gain of civil rights for African Americans.
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He had a first-hand account of the treatment against the freedmen. He describes one experience that demonstrates the hate against the blacks when he says to a reporter, “We had all seen a lot of dead people in the war…We fought during the war for America, Mississippi included. Now, after the Germans and the Japanese hadn’t killed us, it looked as though the white Mississippians would…we weren’t going to get by this mob.” Other ways that the hatred was shown between the freedmen and the white southerners was the discrimination of the blacks, the violence such as lynchings, beatings, and murders of the blacks. One example of this is when the KKK Klansmen beat Abram Colby for nearly three hours. The work ethic of the blacks had also changed during the reconstruction. They were now able to work for their own good and for the good of their families. They were willing to work hard for someone, as long as they were getting paid, or rewarded in return, and it was shown that if they weren’t going to receive anything for their work, they weren’t going to work. The relationship that existed between the freedmen and the white southerners was one reason why the Reconstruction was unsuccessful.
The other reason that the Reconstruction did not seem to be successful was that the southern economy was still struggling, and not benefitting from the changes during the reconstruction. After the Civil War, the southern economy was struggling and one of the main points of the Reconstruction was to rebuild the economy back to its original standpoint. One of the ways that the economy of the south had changed was the development of sharecropping. Because there was no money in the south, the former plantation owners would make a deal with the freedmen that if they were to work for them, they would provide the necessary materials, the land, and housing for the slave, and at the end of the year, the former slave and plantation owner would share the crop. Sharecropping never really worked, and it failed mainly because of the loans that were given out to the workers to cover their needs while they were waiting for the harvest.
When the crop was ready, the landowner would say that the worker still owed him money for all of the loans and that maybe next year they would be able to pay it off. The workers remained in debt to the landowners, more often than not, on the land that they were formerly a slave on, and they could not leave until they were out of debt. Sharecropping seemed to be a way that the southern whites kept the freedmen working for them at what seemed to be for free. The southern economy was also failing because of the cotton prices. According to Eric Foner, the credit system in the south that was based on “crop lien” lead to overproduction of cotton and further lowering of prices, and also kept the economy of the south from improving. The Reconstruction was also considered to be unsuccessful due to the fact that the southern economy did not see the economic improvements that were wished when moving into the period of Reconstruction.
The Reconstruction occurred when the Southern States that had succeeded from the Union prior to the Civil War, we’re rejoining the Union, and this period of time was used to improve the southern economy and gain civil rights for the newly freed slaves. There were many changes in the economy and society of the south, including the development of sharecropping and the integration of former slaves into the society. Even though some might say that there were some small successes within the Reconstruction, the Reconstruction as a whole can be seen as unsuccessful because major points in the economy did not improve, and white southerners used all of their abilities to keep the freedmen below them, and without rights.