To what extent did Reconstruction bring the Southern Negro the equality and freedom that slavery had denied them?



Article 13:
          Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or and place subject to their jurisdiction.....

Article 14:
          All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws....

Article 15:
          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 conditions
of servitude.......

SOURCE:  U. S. Constitution.



We the undersigned members of a Convention of colored citizens of the State of Virginia, would respectfully represent teats although we have been hem as slaves, and denied all recognition as a constituent of your nationality for almost the entire period of the duration of your Government, and that by your permission we have been denied either home or country, and deprived of the dearest rights of human nature: yet when you and our immediate oppressors met in deadly conflict upon the field of battle- the one to destroy and the other to save your Government and nationality, we, with scarce an exception, in our inmost souls espoused your cause, and watched, and prayed, and waited, and labored for your success........

Well, the war is over, the rebellion is "put down," and we are declared free! Four fifths of our enemies are paroled or amnestied, and the other fifth are being pardoned, and the President has, in his efforts at the reconstruction of the civil government of the States, late in rebellion, left us entirely at the mercy of these subjugated but unconverted rebels, in everything save the privilege of bringing us, our wives and little

ones, to the auction block We know these men- know them well- and we assure you that, with the majority of them, loyalty is only "lip deep," and that their professions of loyalty are used as a cover to the cherished design of getting restored to their former relations with the Federal Government, and then, by all sorts of "unfriendly legislation, to render the freedom you have given us more intolerable than the slavery they intended for us.

SOURCE:  (An address to the loyal citizens and Congress of the United States of America, August 1865) 
"Great Issues In American History,"
edited by Richard Hofstadter.



Whereas it is essential to just government we recognize the equality of all men before the law, and hold that it is the duty of government in its dealings with the people to mete out equal and exact justice to all, of whatever nativity, race, color, or persuasion, religious or political....

. That all persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement;......

SOURCE:  The Civil Rights Act. March 1, 1875.




          Let there be White Leagues formed in every town, village and hamlet of the South, and let us organize for the great struggle which seems inevitable We have no war to make against the United States Government, but against the republican party our hate must be unquenchable, our war indeterminable and merciless. Fast fleeting away is the day of wordy protests and idle appeals to the magnanimity of the republican party. By brute force they are endeavoring to force us into acquiescence to their hideous program. We have submitted long enough to indignities, and it is time to meet brute-force with brute-force. Every Southern State should swarm with White Leagues, and we should stand ready to act the moment Grant signs the civil-rights bill. It will not do to wait till radicalism has fettered us to the car of social equality before we make an effort to resist it. The signing of the bill will be a declaration of war against the southern whites. It is our duty to ourselves, it is our duty to our children, it is our duty to the white race whose prowess subdued the wilderness of this continent, whose civilization filled it with cities and towns and villages...to let northern radicals understand that military supervision of southern elections and the civil-rights bill mean war, and that war means bloodshed, and that we are terribly in earnest, and even they, fanatical as they are, may retrace their steps before it is too late.

SOURCE:  Atlanta News, "Meet Brute Forces With Brute Forces," September 10, 1874.



"The White Sepulchre"
Covering the monument of infamy with his white hat and coat.
September 7, 1872



The language is, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." IF the privileges and immunities of the citizen of the United States, and of the privileges and immunities of the citizen of the State, and what they respectively are, we will presently consider; but we wish to state here that it is only the former which are placed by this clause under the protection of the federal Constitution, and that the latter, whatever they may be, are not intended to have any additional protection by this paragraph of the amendment....

Was it the purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment, by the simple declaration that no State should make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, to transfer the security and protection of all the civil rights which we have mentioned, from the States to the federal government? And where is it declared that Congress shall have the power to enforce that article, was it intended to bring within the power of Congress the entire domain of civil rights heretofore belonging exclusively to the States?

SOURCE:  Slaughterhouse Cases, 1873.



          When a man has emerged from slavery, and by the aid of beneficial legislation has shaken off the inseparable concomitants or, that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen, or man, are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men's rights are protected. There were thousands of free colored people in this country before the abolition of slavery, enjoying all the essential rights of life, liberty and property the same as white citizens; yet no one, at that time, thought that it was any invasion of his personal status as a freedman because he was not admitted to all the privileges enjoyed by white citizens, or because he was subjected to discriminations in the enjoyment of accommodations in inns, public conveyances and places of amusement. Mere discriminations on account of race or color were not regarded as badges of slavery. If, since that time, the enjoyment of equal rights in all these respects has become established by constitutional enactment, it is not by force of the Thirteenth Amendment (which merely abolishes slavery), but by force of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments On the whole we are of the opinion that no countenance of authority for the passage of the law in question can be found in either the Thirteenth of Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.......

SOURCE:  Civil Rights Cases, 1883.



...The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but by the nature of things it could riot have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.....

We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority....The argument necessarily assumes that if,...the colored race should become the dominant power in the state legislature, and should enact a law in precisely similar terms, it would thereby relegate the white race to an inferior position.....

The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the Negro except by an enforced commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this preposition. If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other's merits and a voluntary consent of individuals...Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.

SOURCE:  Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896.



          The close relationships that sometimes developed between slave Warren and the white mistress could be even more psychologically damaging than separation by sale. Where a master or mistress made "pets" out of certain favorites, indulging them in ways their parents could not, a conflict of loyalties became highly possible. Jane Sutton, a former Mississippi slave, contrasted her master who provided the blacks with "plenty t'eat an' wear" and gave the children candy and presents when he returned from town, with her father, who belonged to a neighboring planter and visited on weekends. "He jus' come on Satu'd'y night an' us don' see much of 'him. Us call him 'cat man.' Mammy tol' us to be more 'spectful to 'im 'cause he was us daddy, but us sent care nothin' 'bout 'im. He sent never brung us no candy or nothin'." Rather than live with her father after emancipation, Jane ran away and returned to the old plantation.

SOURCE:  (Story of Jane Sutton, former slave) "Been In the Storm So Long," by Leon F. Litwack.



          Corrie Calhoun says that where she lives, about thirty miles from here, over in Carolina, the men have a recipe for putting troublesome Negroes out of the way that the Yankees can't get the key to. No two go out together, no one lets another know what he is going to do, and so, when mischievous Negroes are found dead in the woods, nobody knows who killed them

SOURCE:  (Account of the treatment of the free Negro) "Been In the Storm So Long," by Leon F. Litwack.



If the postwar riots and violence were intended to teach the freedman "not to arouse the fury of the white man," they taught him that and considerably more. Law enforcement agencies and officers, if not co-conspirators in violating the civil rights of ax-slaves, might be expected to protect or ignore the violators. Neither the Union Army nor the Freedmen's Bureau could be trusted to afford them the adequate protection;

instead, Union troops in some localities alterr1ated with native whites as the principal aggressors. To seek a redress of grievances in the courts of law, as many freedmen also quickly discovered, resulted invariably in futility if not personal danger.

SOURCE:  (Excerpt from a notion that the government was not protecting the freedmen) 
"Been In the Storm SO Long,"
by Leon F. Litwack.



"This is a White Man's Government"

DBQ Question created by:
Chrissy, student of Mr. Herb Meserve
Shoreham Wading River H. S. 
Shoreham NY 11786
created in:  April, 2000