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The American Civil War is one of the deadliest in US History, and let's just get this out of the way: it was about slavery. In the more than 150 years since the end of the Civil War, there have been many attempts to litigate the reasons for the war, but the reality is that the root of the division was slavery. As such, Black Americans experience in that war is particularly interesting. Today, we'll learn about how Black people fought and participated in the war, the Emancipation Proclamation, and lots more.

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Sources and References

-Deborah Gray White, Mia Bay, and Waldo E. Martin, Freedom on My Mind : A History of African Americans, with Documents Second edition. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2017)
-Kevin Levin, Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth (UNC Press, 2019).
-Ira Berlin et. al., Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 1992).


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#crashcourse #blackhistory #civilwar
Hi, I’m Clint Smith, and this is Crash Course Black American History.

At the start of the Reconstruction era, the country had been at war for 4 years and over 700,000 people had lost their lives. In 1865, 700,000 lives was roughly 2% of the entire population of the country. 2% of the current US population, is over 6 million people.

It’s a staggering amount of death. And after all of that death and destruction, the US had to figure out a way to put itself back together. It had to grapple with what it meant for the United States to be a country in which Black people were not enslaved, something the country had quite literally never encountered before.

This was new territory. After generations upon generations upon generations of chattel slavery, Black folks were free. But what would that freedom look like?

Would they be given the tools, the skills, the education, and the resources to turn this freedom into something, or would this freedom have an asterisk by it? Let’s find out. INTRO In short, Reconstruction was a period following the Civil War that lasted from 1865 to 1877 (though some scholars argue it began in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation).

During this time the country was attempting to remake itself through a series of provisions, programs, and amendments that were, ostensibly, meant to ensure that Black people had civil rights. But this was easier said than done. You have to remember that just because the Confederates lost the war on the battlefield, doesn’t mean that their opinions changed about who Black people were and where they belonged in the social hierarchy.

W. E. B Du Bois, described this period as a moment where "...the slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery." Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, there was a glimmer of hope for what a new, more egalitarian society might look like. Black people in the South had the Federal Government on their side. And the idea was that the federal government would intervene to ensure that Black Americans could transition into life as citizens as safely and efficiently as possible.

The thing is, emancipation fundamentally restructured Southern life for both freed people and white. Southerners. The former planters and enslavers lost their source of labor and sometimes even their land.

During the Civil War, Union General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea, a 285-mile trek through Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah, left a large portion of the state burned to the ground and devastated by his scorched earth, total war approach. Planters and confederate soldiers fled during the rampage, leaving a lot of land empty and untended.

Sherman intended to parcel out this land to formerly enslaved people in Sherman’s Field. Order No. 15. This is where the famous 40 acres and a mule idea came from (though mules weren’t initially part of it).

Sherman believed that redistributing the land was important because it both punished Confederate land-owners for their role in starting and sustaining the Civil War while also providing newly freed Black people with the land and resources they needed to begin a new life in this post-emancipation South. Thanks Thought Bubble. Five days after Robert E.

Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, effectively ending the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s vice-president, a Democrat, and a former enslaver, became the new president.

Johnson believed the opposite of what General Sherman proposed, instead of taking land from former Confederates and giving it to the freedman, Johnson believed in pardoning Confederates, letting them back into the union and into government without asking them for basically...anything. Johnson’s views were at odds with Congress, which following the election of 1866, was controlled by the Republicans, who were at that time the party of the left, and who had a large enough majority to pass legislation and even override Johnson’s veto. These “Radical Republicans” as they were known, led by Thaddeus Stevens, even impeached.

Johnson, though he avoided conviction by a single vote in the Senate. The Reconstruction Amendments (the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U. S.

Constitution) were passed to establish Black Americans' legal protections. The 13th Amendment of 1865 formally abolished slavery across the whole of the United States. Many people get that confused with the Emancipation Proclamation, but the proclamation, if you remember, only freed enslaved people in the rebelling states.

HOWEVER, it's super important to note a particular clause in the 13th Amendment. The legislation reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, EXCEPT as a punishment for crime...shall exist within the United States." And in fact, unpaid and underpaid labor remains a frequently criticized aspect of mass incarceration today. The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1868, and addressed citizenship.

It reads, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, ... are citizens of the United States." It also says, "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the [rights] of citizens of the United States ...nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Seems pretty straightforward on paper, but this amendment has not always been equally enforced, to say the least. Black people’s rights were definitely abridged over time, and in many places these rights were completely, and violently, subverted. Last but not least: The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870.

This one gave Black men, though not women, the right to vote. It reads: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." In order to enforce the three Amendments and protect Black people's rights, the Freedmen's. Bureau, a coalition of northern officials and Union Soldiers, was set up throughout the South.

Many southern states hated the idea of formerly enslaved people having these rights, and having federal troops down there seemed like the only way to make sure these rights were protected. The Freedmen's Bureau was tasked with helping newly freed Black people make a life for themselves. And they had a few ways of doing this: They legally recognized marriages between formerly enslaved people.

Before, many enslaved people would have unofficial ceremonies, so actions like “jumping the broom” would be the only signifiers of lifelong commitment. Now, as citizens, states would recognize their marriage. Additionally, the Bureau helped to reunite families who had been separated during slavery.

Which over the course of 250 years had split apart millions of people. So, post emancipation, the Bureau took testimonies of enslaved people and checked records of relocated individuals to bring families back together. But in one of its main roles, securing work contracts, the Bureau proved to be… not so great.

Many Black Americans were forced into contracts to become sharecroppers or tenant farmers, which is to say they would grow crops for a landowner in exchange for room and board. So while they were allowed to keep some of their crops for themselves, technically, they weren’t paid a wage or salary for their work, and many of them were pushed right back into the clutches of the enslavers they had seemingly just escaped. Additionally, the Freedman’s Savings Bank, which was ostensibly created to help the formerly enslaved after emancipation, shut down within less than a decade and the money of tens of thousands of depositors equaling nearly 3 million dollars essentially disappeared.

More than half of the accumulated black wealth by 1874 disappeared through the mismanagement of the Freedmen’s Savings Bank. Just gone. Still, the Bureau did a pretty good job in assisting Black Americans in their pursuit of formal education, something that Black people had been advocating as central to the possibility of upward mobility.

Historian James D. Anderson argues that the freed slaves were the first Southerners "to campaign for universal, state-supported public education." The Freedman’s Bureau helped set up schools for Black people of all ages. According to historian James McPherson, by 1870, there were more than 1,000 schools for freedmen in the South.

Bureau initiatives also allowed African Americans to gain political power. An important outgrowth of the 15th Amendment was an influential Black voting bloc that translated into real political power. In the years following the Civil War leading to the turn of the century, twenty-two Black people were elected to Congress, two of which were Senators: Hiram Revels and Blanche Kelso.

Bruce from Mississippi. And it wasn’t just nationally. Black people were voted into office in state legislatures across the South.

According to McPherson, at the beginning of 1867, no African American in the South held political office, but within just a few years "about 15 percent of the officeholders in the South were Black—a larger proportion than in 1990". Many of these newly elected politicians had been soldiers in the Union army. According to historian Eric Foner, "for black soldiers, military service meant more than the opportunity to help save the Union, more even than their freedom and the destruction of slavery as an institution.

For men of talent and ambition, the army flung open the door to advancement and respectability.” One of the main subjects of conversation among new Black politicians surrounded the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U. S. Constitution and whether there was room for women in politics.

According to Historian Martha Jones, "Black women moved in from the margins during this debate... They insisted that an intersectional analysis, one that simultaneously took up race and gender, was required if organizations such as the Equal Rights Association expected to move forward in the postemancipation era." It was clear that Black women existing at, in Jones’s words, "the nexus of sex and color" had a unique perspective and set of experiences, that were making clear that Black freedom should include freedom for all, Black people, not just the men. As Black education and political power flourished in the late 1860s and early 1870s, African.

Americans faced white supremacist opposition. Much of this violence was tied to the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, led by former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest who served as the first Grand Wizard of the organization from 1867 to 1869, before Ulysses S. Grant led an effort that largely wiped them out by 1872… at least temporarily.

And even though the organization of the Klan was gone, for the moment, violence against. Black people was still growing. The presidential election of 1876 was tenuous.

Democrat Samuel Tilden of New York earned 184 electoral votes, which was one less than required. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio got 165.

However, election results in Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina were disputed. Alongside an elector issue in Oregon, these 20 Electoral Votes would decide the election. In what became known as the Compromise of 1877, Hayes was elected president on the condition that the remaining Union soldiers would be withdrawn from the South.

This meant that there was no more federal protection for Black Americans in the South. Millions of Black people now felt completely and thoroughly abandoned. By the end of the 19th century, 2,500 Black people would be lynched throughout the South, more than a hundred Black men and women per year.

Sometimes people say that Reconstruction failed, but it would be more accurate to say that it was violently overthrown. It did not fail to succeed because Black people were incapable of governance, as some 20th century historians and famous films like The Birth of a Nation seemed to suggest, it failed to succeed because white southerners did everything they could to thwart Black mobility and opportunity. The US could have gone in a different direction, it could have provided land, resources, and opportunity to millions of Black people to begin to build a life for themselves after 250 years of bondage, some resources that would have at least attempted to account for the generations of exploitation that Black people suffered in this country.

But a different choice was made, and we’re still feeling the impact of that today. Thanks for watching, I’ll see you next time. Crash Course is made with the help of all these nice people and our animation team is.

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