Today in History: 133 Years Ago, President Hayes Ended Reconstruction

April 27, 1877: Hayes, keeping his campaign promises, ordered the withdrawal of troops from Louisiana, thus handing over the state governments to white Americans.  The result was the mass disenfranchisement of African-Americans, concurrent to a campaign of violence and intimidation aimed at African-American communities.  In addition to the rise in the membership of white Supremacist organization, lynching was a manifestation of this:

Most lynchings from the late nineteenth through the early twentieth century were of African Americans in the South, with other victims including white immigrants, and, in the southwest, Latinos. Of the 468 victims inTexas between 1885 and 1942, 339 were black, 77 white, 53 Hispanic, and 1 Indian.[15] They reflected the tensions of labor and social changes, as the whites imposed Jim Crow rules, legal segregation and white supremacy.


Scholars, including W.E.B. DuBois and Leon Litwack would call Reconstruction a “splendid failure,” whereby those who enslaved the now-emancipated slaves failed to uplift them to the status of first-class citizens, conferring to them their rights and privileges.  The aim of “making citizens out of ex-slaves” was not an honorable one, but a paternalistic, and racist one.

The fact of the matter is, that MOST African-American slaves were born in the United States, and over 200,000 African-American soldiers served in the Union Army and Navy.  Others, like Harriet Tubman, served as spies for the Union Army.  Even before they were legally emancipated, many African-American slaves were mentally emancipated.  They took their freedom and defined their worth outside of the worth assigned to them on the slave auction block.  The slaves were not made free by an act of war [see: Field Order Number 15], but rather by an act of will.

The problem was that the United States government failed to grant African-Americans SUSTAINABLE emancipation.  A disenfranchised, dispossessed people cannot progress without land ownership, schools with proper amenities and supplies, a trust-worthy police force or even a truly representative government.  You cannot enslave a people for centuries, shipping them away from their homelands and stripping away their language and overt expressions of culture and expect them to fend for themselves after emancipation.  And fend for themselves they did- Mutual Aid Societies, Freedmen’s Bureau, Black Sororities and Fraternities, Black Churches- these organizations consolidated human, monetary, political and social capital  in order to leverage rights for African-Americans in a society that was so hostile to them.  [see also: Black Codes, Jim Crow, et al]

I have so much more to say about this, but time does not permit.

History Central: The End of Reconstruction

40 Acres and a Mule: The Ruined Hope of Reconstruction

National Archives: Black Soldiers in the Civil War

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