The Reconstruction period lasted from 1865 to 1877, and during this time, many African Americans lacked the economic power, and social acceptance, necessary to be considered free. Slavery in the United States of America did not officially end until December 6, 1865, the day the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. However, on January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in the Confederacy. The Southern states had a major part in denying the freedom of African Americans, along with other white citizens, as they had trouble accepting African Americans as truly free.
Free, in this context meaning, an African American’s ability to act as they wish; not under the control of anyone. Black Codes were made in order to restrict freedoms of African Americans even more. Being politically free did not allow for a fully prosperous life and future, for African Americans were still forced to face racism, and similar subjugation to what they endured before the Emancipation proclamation, and Thirteenth Amendment. Therefore, although African Americans had political freedom, their economical and social freedoms were limited. Politically, African Americans had much more freedom than they did socially and economically.
The 15th Amendment was passed on February 26, 1869, and ratified on February 3, 1870. The 15th Amendment gave African American men the right to vote, stating, “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” (Document A: The Reconstruction Amendments). After the 15th Amendment, between the vears of 1870 and 1877,” thousands of African Americans were elected to local and state governments throughout the Southern states.
In addition, 17 African Americans were elected to the United States Congress from Southern States” (Document D: Elected Black Officials during Reconstruction). This shows the great amount of political rights that African Americans gained during Reconstruction, giving them political freedom. Economically, African Americans were not well off, “Because no land distribution took place, the vast majority of rural freedpeople remained poor and without property during Reconstruction” (Foner, 447).
Sharecropping, seemed like a system that was better than gang labor, and much better than slavery, however over time the job became worse, “as the years went on, sharecropping became more and more oppressive. Sharecroppers’ economic opportunities were severely limited” (Foner, 450). Sharecropping was a different system of labor for African Americans, and yet there were many similarities between the process and slavery. Workers were given very few rights, and very little money. They had very strict rules, that were necessary to follow if they wanted to avoid damage to their assets and wages.
It could be seen that African Americans were given very little economic freedom. African Americans had very limited social freedom. The Black Codes were made in 1865, as part of Johnson’s Reconstruction policy. These codes were strongly opposed, as they were so greatly restrictive against the rights of African Americans, “they denied them the rights to testify against whites, to serve on juries or in state militias, or to vote” (Foner, 453). The Black Codes violated all free labor principles, and yet Southern states and cities were even able to pass their own Black Codes.
In order to define what freed blacks were and were not allowed to do, Section One of Opelousas, Louisiana’s Black Code stated, “No negro shall be allowed to come within the limits of the town of Opelousas without special permission from his employers” (Black Code from Opelousas, Louisiana, July 1865). Lastly, Henry Adams, a freedman, made a statement before the U. S. Senate in 1880. He says, “out came about forty armed white men and shot at us and took my horse. They said they were going to kill every colored person they found leave their masters” (Document C: Henry Adams Statement).
From this statement, it is clear that socially African Americans were often still treated as slaves with masters. Going to show how limited the social freedoms of African Americans were, during the time period of the Reconstruction. Although there is not one specific answer to the question of whether or not African Americans were free during the reconstruction period, it is clear that they were in many ways politically free, and yet unable to enjoy true freedom, in an economical and social sense. Politically, African Americans were able to represent local and state governments.
Economically, there were attempts to give African Americans freedoms, however, these attempts were not fully successful. Lastly socially, freedoms were very minimal for African Americans, many white people were unwilling to even accept African Americans statues as free at all. Therefore, it can be seen through evidence from the Reconstruction period, that African Americans were free to a meagre extent during Reconstruction period. Nevertheless, the limitations to African American rights outweighed the freedoms that they received after being declared “free”.