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Article

Karen Backstein

dancer and arts administrator, was born in New York City, the daughter of Julius J. Adams, a journalist who rose to managing editor of the New York Amsterdam News, and Olive A. Adams, an accomplished pianist. Her parents cultivated in her a deep appreciation of the arts, as well as a legacy of social activism that stayed with Adams throughout her life—both during her career as a dancer and after her retirement from the stage, when she helped found community-based arts centers for children in Harlem. The dance writer Muriel Topaz described the Adamses' home as a “center of social and political activity,” and noted that the Global News Syndicate, an organization of black newspapers, was founded in their small apartment (Topaz, 30).

When she was eight years old Adams entered New York s progressive Ethical Culture School an institution dedicated to the moral as well ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

a Civil War soldier and veterans leader and Reconstruction-era legislator, was born and lived all of his life in Louisiana. Felix Antoine was born into the distinct community of gens de couleur libre, free persons of color, which existed in the New Orleans area and some other parts of Louisiana since French colonial times. His father was a veteran of the War of 1812, who fought under General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, and his mother was a native of the West Indies. His paternal grandmother was reputed to have been the daughter of an African prince, who purchased her freedom from slavery; she saved $150,000 as a free woman (Shreveport Journal obituary of C.C. Antoine, 14 Sept. 1921). Antoine was the younger brother of Louisiana Lt. Governor Caesar C. Antoine who moved from New Orleans to Shreveport prior to ...

Primary Source

In 1873, the short-lived Unification Movement began in Louisiana, then occupied by federal troops under Reconstruction. The movement consisted of whites and elite Creoles who sought a peaceful end to Reconstruction and a reformed government that allowed for cooperation among the races. Among the most prominent supporters of the movement was newspaper publisher Louis Charles Roudanez (1823–1890), who used his position as founder of the New Orleans Tribune to promote the goals of the Unification effort In June 1873 the Committee of One Hundred drew up a platform that was among the most progressive among political movements in the postwar South Along with the core principals of equality and freedom of expression excerpted below the committee also called for equal distribution of public offices among the races and an end to all public segregation Within a few years however the movement faltered Rural whites were openly hostile while working ...

Primary Source

For many African Americans living in the South, the promise and hope brought about by the Emancipation Proclamation (1864) and the victory of the U.S. federal government in the Civil War were cruelly short-lived. Indeed, many freedpeople found themselves living as subsistence farmers in a sharecropping system that—coupled with the passage of so-called Jim Crow laws, restrictive covenants designed to sharply curtail the rights and freedoms of recently-freed slaves—in effect returned them to states of virtual servitude. With the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the ascendancy of the racist and Southern collaborator Andrew Johnson to the presidency, and the death knell of federal Reconstruction efforts in the South, African Americans began to abandon the region, where more than 90 percent of all African Americans in the United States made their homes.

The westward territories seemed a likely place to begin new lives and it was to the west and specifically Kansas ...

Article

Bertis English

political activist and journalist, was a slave who belonged to an influential antebellum lawyer from South Alabama. Little else is known about his life prior to the Civil War; however, it is known that during the early years of the Civil War, Berry was sent to toil in a hazardous saltworks that the Confederacy operated in Clarke County. Berry survived three years of intense labor there, and he emerged from the ordeal more experienced, as well as more militant, than many of the other African Americans he knew. After moving to the Gulf Coast city of Mobile, Berry became a member of the vanguard of black leaders who would help the state's black masses achieve legal and psychological freedom in the aftermath of the Civil War.

The Union victory and the federal effort to alter the legal status of black people deepened white Alabamians resistance to change State lawmakers were ...

Article

Christopher Waldrep

Months after the end of the Civil War, Mississippi, followed by other southern states, began passing laws designed to control newly freed slaves through the legal system. Under slavery, whites had disciplined blacks primarily outside the law, through extralegal whippings administered by slave owners and their overseers. After emancipation, panicky whites feared that the end of plantation slavery would unleash blacks’ alleged criminality. White men feared for the safety of their wives and daughters and sought protection for their property.

While some white southerners thought African Americans were best controlled by vigilantes, others proposed using courts and the law. On 22 November 1865 the Mississippi legislature passed a law directing civil officers to hire out orphaned minor freedmen free negroes and mulattoes This law allowed moderate corporal chastisement forbade the orphans to leave their masters and made it a crime for anyone to entice an apprenticed orphan from ...

Primary Source

Even in defeat, the states of the former Confederacy were not so willing to go gently into the new, post-slavery world. Between 1865 and 1908 so-called Black Codes began to appear in the law books of southern states—these were statutes designed to regulate the freedom, employment, and voting rights of recently freed slaves. Some codes forced blacks to seek the dispensation of a judge in the event they wanted to find work outside the realm of what whites considered proper and fitting (mostly the agricultural and domestic duties that whites commonly associated with black labor); others prevented blacks from entering certain towns without a permission slip from a white employer; still others prevented blacks from sitting on juries or from offering testimony in court against whites.

Besides infantilizing black men and women black codes also subjected them to legal punishment fines imprisonment and even flogging in the case of unemployment ...

Article

Omar H. Ali

In the decades following Reconstruction, African Americans continued to push for an expansion of their democratic rights, despite facing increasing political marginalization and economic hardship. Growing debt, low commodity prices, and low wages kept most African Americans dependent upon large landowners. By the late 1870s most former slaves had become sharecroppers, indebted to local landlords and merchants on whom they relied for supplies, credit, and land on which to farm. Even though many black men and women had secured land after Emancipation, this usually consisted of small plots—making it difficult for them to compete with cash crops in a global marketplace. Brazil, Egypt, and India for instance, had become major cotton-producing nations, pulling down prices and requiring farmers in the Cotton Belt to grow ever larger harvests in order to make a profit.

The collapse of Reconstruction in the late 1870s came with the reassertion of the Democratic Party in ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

Although residential segregation is often considered one of the more harmful effects of racism in the United States, some African Americans in the nineteenth century chose to form their own racially separate communities. Unlike the ghettos and rural enclaves where many blacks were forced to live at the time, black towns were established to promote economic independence, self-government, and social equality for African Americans. More than eighty such towns were settled in the fifty years following the Civil War.

A few, such as New Philadelphia, Illinois, were formed even before the Civil War, but it was not until after Emancipation in the United States that the population of free blacks was large enough to supply settlers for the new towns. The first great wave of black migration began as Reconstruction ended in 1877 When federal troops withdrew from the South many blacks feared that the civil and political ...

Article

Barbara C. Behan

For three centuries, Americans of African descent have at times sought to establish communities where they could live in partial or complete isolation from the dominant culture. Settlements of formerly enslaved African Americans existed on the East Coast after the Revolutionary War. All-black settlements also developed among the Seminole Nation in Florida as early as the eighteenth century. As the nation industrialized, segregated company towns also were built in various locations.

The phrase “all-black towns” usually refers to the period of self-segregation and town-building that began after Reconstruction and continued into the early twentieth century. Historians estimate that at least seventy-five to one hundred all-black towns were founded during this time, mainly in the South and the West.

Article

Joseph P. Reidy

Reconstruction politician, was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, the son of unknown slaves on the plantation of Francis Pickens, a prominent politician. Little is known of Bradley's youth and early manhood other than that he was a shoemaker for a time in Augusta, Georgia, and that he escaped slavery and made his way to the North, apparently during the 1830s. He lived for a time in New York and in Boston. In Boston he not only met abolitionists but also studied the law and eventually became a practicing attorney.

The Civil War opened new horizons. Bradley returned south late in 1865 and settled in Savannah, Georgia, intending, it seems, to open a law practice and a school. Drawn inexorably to the public arena, he began to champion the cause of freed people who were resisting President Andrew Johnson's policy of restoring plantation land to its antebellum owners Bradley ...

Article

Joseph P. Reidy

Bradley, Aaron Alpeora (1815?– October 1882), Reconstruction politician, was born in Edgefield District, South Carolina, the son of unknown slaves on the plantation of Francis Pickens, a prominent politician. Little is known of Bradley’s youth and early manhood other than that he was a shoemaker for a time in Augusta, Georgia, and that he escaped slavery and made his way to the North, apparently during the 1830s. He lived for a time in New York and in Boston. In the latter city he not only met abolitionists but also studied the law and eventually became a practicing attorney.

The Civil War opened new horizons. Bradley returned south late in 1865 and settled in Savannah, Georgia, intending, it seems, to open a law practice and a school. Drawn inexorably to the public arena, he began to champion the cause of freedpeople who were resisting President Andrew Johnson ...

Article

Michael J. Ristich

journalist, musician, and politician, was born James Henri Burch in New Haven, Connecticut, to Charles Burch, a wealthy black minister, and his wife. Burch was the sole black student at Oswego Academy in New York, where he was trained in journalism and music. He lived in Buffalo, New York, before the Civil War, where he became involved in the antislavery movement and taught music. Burch became an active member in the Garnet League, which championed the rights of former slaves. Upon moving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Burch quickly worked his way in the political circles of Louisiana, serving in the Louisiana House of Representatives and the Louisiana Senate.

At age thirty two with his father s encouragement Burch left the North for Louisiana to aid and educate free blacks during Reconstruction Soon thereafter Burch began directing the local school for blacks and began his rise through the Louisiana state ...

Article

Michelle Kuhl

businessman, anti-lynching advocate, and pioneering member of Seattle, Washington's black middle class, was born in Kentucky, but exactly when or where has not been established. Some indications of Burdett's background, however, emerge from the 1850 census of Bullitt, Kentucky. One “Sam'l Burdett” is listed as a four-year-old black child living in the household of a white Burdette family headed by a fifty-year-old man named Pyton Burdett, who had a wife and seven children. A black woman named Louisa Burdett is also included in the household along with three black children, among them, “Sam'l.” The status of Louisa and her three children as either slaves or free persons is not indicated. Whatever her background in 1850, it is clear that ten years later Louisa had prospered. In 1860 the Bullitt Kentucky census listed Louisa Burdett 36 with three children including a fourteen year old Samuel living in their ...

Article

From the colonial era to the present, black organizations and leaders have promoted business as a route to economic equality, both on an individual basis and through the encouragement of support for black business by black economic nationalists. Other long traditions among blacks include cooperative economic ventures, from the burial societies and mutual benefit societies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the fraternal organizations and black banks and insurance companies of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The past century saw the development of black business empires built on the black consumer market and, in the late 1900s, competition and integration of black business with white corporate America.

Article

Agnes Kane Callum

slave, farmer, teacher, Reconstruction-era state legislator and lawyer, was born in South Carolina's famed Edgefield District. He was literate and the favored slave of Major Thomas Carwile the commissioner in equity of Edgefield Cain was probably raised much like other slave children on Edgefield plantations they would be cared for by an elderly lady while their mothers worked in the fields until the children were about six or seven years old when they were sent to work in the fields many serving as water carriers or weed pullers In some instances they were sent to work by the side of an adult Generally the children were called quarter workers since they produced about one fourth as much labor as an adult It is not known exactly how Cain learned to read and write but it is likely that he was taught by his owner as he was known as ...

Article

William C. Hine

clergyman and politician, was born to free parents in Greenbriar County, Virginia (now West Virginia). In 1831 his family moved to Gallipolis, Ohio. Cain was educated at local schools and worked on an Ohio River steamboat before being licensed to preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1844. Complaining of racial discrimination in the church, he resigned and joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Assigned a pulpit in Muscatine, Iowa, he was ordained a deacon in 1859. He returned to Ohio and in 1860 attended Wilberforce University. From 1861 to 1865 he served as pastor at Bridge Street Church in Brooklyn, New York, and was elevated to elder in 1862. He participated in the 1864 national black convention in Syracuse, New York, that advocated abolition, equality before the law, and universal manhood suffrage. Cain married Laura (maiden name unknown), and they adopted a daughter.

In 1865 ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

blacksmith and state legislator, was born to slave parents whose names have not been recorded. Nothing is known of his childhood, other than that he had one brother, Sam. By the time he reached adulthood, Charles Caldwell was working as a blacksmith in Clinton, a small village in Hinds County twelve miles from Jackson, Mississippi. Given that Mississippi's slave population expanded rapidly in the three decades after 1830, it is quite possible that Caldwell was born in another state to planters who had then brought or sold him on the lucrative Mississippi market.

Caldwell s skilled trade provided him a degree of relative autonomy in his work and may have enabled him to travel with fewer restrictions than the average plantation slave Slave blacksmiths carpenters barbers and other skilled workers often learned to read and write as Caldwell did and generally enjoyed a high status within the African American ...

Article

Benjamin R. Justesen

merchant, public official, religious leader, and longtime state legislator, was born in Perquimans County, North Carolina, the eldest son of free, mixed-race parents John Cail (Cale) and Elizabeth Mitchell, a homemaker, who were married in 1827. His father worked as a miller, later as a fisherman, and moved his large family—as many as nine children—to Edenton in nearby Chowan County in the 1850s. Little is known of Hugh Cale's early life or education, although he had learned to read and write by the end of the Civil War.

After the Union army occupied much of northeastern North Carolina in early 1862, Cale began working as a manual laborer for federal installations at Fort Hatteras and Roanoke Island. In 1867 he moved to Elizabeth City North Carolina where he commenced a singularly successful career as a grocer and held a number of local offices during and after ...

Article

Steven J. Niven

educator and politician, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the third son of Lydia Williams, a freewoman of color, and Isaac Nunez Cardozo, a prominent white Jewish businessman. Cardozo's elder brothers, the Glasgow University-educated Francis Louis Cardozo and Henry Cardozo, were both prominent politicians and educators in Reconstruction-era South Carolina. Like his brothers, Thomas enjoyed the privileges of Charleston's freeborn black elite in his youth, attending private schools in the city, but experienced a reversal in his family fortunes following the death of his father in 1855. Apprenticed for a time to a Charleston manufacturer of rice-threshing machines, the youngest Cardozo moved to New York City with his mother in 1857 because of growing hostility to and legislative restrictions against free blacks in South Carolina. He continued his studies at Collegiate Institute in Newburgh, New York, and beginning in 1861 taught for several years in ...