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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 ...


Carolyn Wedin

Since its highly publicized, successful, and controversial opening in 1915, the twelve-reel, feature-length D. W. Griffith film The Birth of a Nation has presented enduring questions of how to deal with a filmic work of art that is so bad because it is so good, so dangerous because it is so convincing. Seemingly able to inform and sway audiences on its historic topic—the South in the Civil War of 1861–1865 and the period of Reconstruction that followed—The Birth of a Nation has reached millions of people with a particular slant on race relations and American history, a bias difficult to access and more difficult still to eradicate.

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 ...


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 ...


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 ...


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.


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 ...


Kate Tuttle

During the period of Reconstruction that followed the American Civil War (1861–1865), some whites and African Americans from Northern states, particularly veterans of the Union Army, relocated to the South. White Southerners, the vast majority of whom supported the Confederacy and the continuing existence of slavery, called these transplants “carpetbaggers.” They claimed that the Northerners had come to stir up racial trouble, taking advantage of the newly freed slaves for their own political success. Together with “scalawags,” the term for native Southern Republicans who supported racial equality, carpetbaggers were vilified by generations of American historians.

In fact, most scholars now believe that the Northern migrants sought economic opportunity above all, although some, particularly those who worked with the Freedmen's Bureau and other Reconstruction agencies, did work to help Southern blacks in the areas of education and voting rights. One influential carpetbagger was Albion Tourgee who served as ...


Sholomo B. Levy

sociologist, was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in what was then the British West Indies. His father, William Raphael Cox, was the captain and customs officer of a revenue schooner, a position that secured a modicum of social and financial security for his wife, Virginia Blake, and their five children. William Cox had five additional children with Oliver's stepmother, Louisa. Oliver's uncle, Reginald W. Vidale, the headmaster of St. Thomas Boys’ School in Port of Spain who later became a councilman and alderman, took primary charge of Oliver's early education and rearing.

He was a bright student, but he did not win one of St. Thomas's coveted scholarships to study in England. Because his father would only finance the education of his eldest son, Cox briefly attended a local agricultural college before securing a position as a clerk in a department store. In 1919 to ...


Caroline DeVoe

businessman, landowner, farmer, and lynching victim, was born into slavery in Abbeville, South Carolina, the youngest son of Thomas and Louisa, slaves on the plantation of Ben Crawford in Abbeville, South Carolina. After Emancipation and Ben Crawford's death, his widow Rebecca may have bequeathed land to her former slave, Thomas, Anthony's father. Thomas continued to acquire land, and in 1873 he purchased 181 acres of fertile land from Samuel McGowan, a former Confederate general and South Carolina Supreme Court Justice. Thomas Crawford's “homeplace” was located in an alluvial valley, approximately seven miles west of the town of Abbeville. The rich land was flanked on the east by Little River and on the west by Penny Creek.

While Crawford's brothers worked the family farm Anthony was sent to school walking seven miles to and from school each day Seventeen year old Anthony was ...


Michael J. Ristich

physician, editor, abolitionist, activist, and Reconstruction politician, was a native of Virginia who migrated to New Orleans, determined to fight the disenfranchisement of blacks. Nothing is known of Cromwell's upbringing and childhood except that he was born free. Educated in Wisconsin, Cromwell also spent time in the West Indies before settling in New Orleans in 1864. Cromwell was an outspoken proponent of black rights, known for employing controversial rhetoric, and was not averse to the idea of a race war between blacks and whites during Reconstruction.

In 1863, the militant Cromwell wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, seeking to raise black troops in the North. Cromwell moved to New Orleans in January of 1864 and quickly entered the political circles of Louisiana participating in a number of pivotal events that helped shape the politics and civil rights of Reconstruction Louisiana Although never serving in ...


Melvin L. Butler

gospel singer, composer, and pastor, was born Andrae Edward Crouch in Los Angeles, California. As a child, his musical talents were cultivated under the church ministry of his parents, Benjamin and Catherine Crouch. He also benefited from attending Pentecostal services at the Emmanuel Church of God in Christ, where his great-uncle, Bishop Samuel M. Crouch, was the pastor. Crouch's upbringing was enhanced not only by his experiences singing and playing in church but also through his exposure to an array of musical styles such as jazz, blues, rock and roll, and European classical music. At the age of fourteen, he drew from these multiple influences to pen his first composition, “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” which would become a classic gospel piece (Darden, 276–278).

During his teenage years he formed vocal ensembles with several of his siblings most notably his twin sister Sandra He labeled one ...


James Sellman

The Democratic Party, formed in the late 1820s, is the world's oldest existing political party. Together with the Republican Party, which appeared during the 1850s, it makes up the American two-party system. In many respects, the two parties have reversed nineteenth-century positions, and African Americans, who strongly identified as Republicans through the 1920s, have become equally firm since the 1940s in their commitment to the Democrats.

During the nineteenth century virtually no African Americans supported the Democratic Party The Democrats were opposed to a strong central government to reform measures and to blacks During the antebellum era the party drew much of its strength from white Southerners who staunchly defended the institution of slavery and feared that free blacks would incite slave rebellions In any case no slaves and few free blacks had the right to vote The main sources of Democratic strength in the North were Midwesterners born ...


Howard N. Rabinowitz

Robert Brown Elliott was born probably in Liverpool, England, of unknown West Indian parents. Elliott's early life is shrouded in mystery, largely because of his own false claims, but apparently he did receive an English public school education (but not at Eton as he claimed) and was trained as a typesetter. It is likely also that in 1866 or 1867, while on duty with the Royal Navy, he decided to seek his fortune in America and jumped ship in Boston harbor, without, however, taking out citizenship papers. All that is known for certain is that by March 1867 Elliott was associate editor of the South Carolina Leader, a black-owned Republican newspaper in Charleston. Shortly thereafter he married Grace Lee Rollin, a member of a prominent South Carolina free Negro family. The couple had no children.

During Reconstruction South Carolina s population was 60 percent ...


Robert Fay

Freedmen's Hospital was founded in 1862 to serve former slaves and Union soldiers in the Civil War (1861–1865). At that time—and, indeed, until the Civil Rights Movement—many hospitals and medical colleges were segregated, leaving black patients with few health care options and aspiring black physicians and nurses with limited choice about where to study and practice medicine. The Freedmen's Hospital, however, not only provided service to poor whites and blacks in Washington, D.C., but through its close association with Howard University's Medical College (the two joined in 1868 to form a teaching hospital), it came to offer medical training to African Americans.

Part of the hospital's mission was to provide medical care to the indigent despite inadequate federal funding—the hospital was prohibited from admitting paying patients until 1912 During its history administrators worked amid a deteriorating physical plant and outdated equipment and the hospital ...


Eric Gardner

activist and educator, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Nothing is known of his parentage or youth. He was probably the James Gilliard listed in the 1860 Federal Census of Stockton, California; if this is the case, he was a barber, his wife was named Charlotte (c. 1835– ?), and had a step-daughter, Mary E. Jones (c. 1848– ?). In the late 1860s Gilliard worked as a teacher and sometime-minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and spent time in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. He wrote several short pieces for the San Francisco Elevator—sometimes under his full name and sometimes using simply “J. E. M.”—and was noted by the editor Philip Bell as one of the weekly's best contributors (along with Thomas Detter and Jennie Carter). Gilliard was even occasionally noted as the paper's “associate editor.”

Gilliard lectured throughout California in 1870 ...


Eric Bennett

The gospel-quartet style developed during Reconstruction when the musical traditions of jubilee singing, shape-note singing, and blackface Minstrelsy conflated. Late-nineteenth-century gospel quartets were primarily a casual, amateur phenomenon, frequently characterized by family groups performing at special events such as picnics, celebrations, and church services. Though repertoires often centered on Spirituals and hymns, secular selections were not uncommon. Early quartets usually performed a cappella (without instrumental accompaniment) and often created original approaches to harmony and counterpoint.

By the turn of the century the form was popular and well established. Soon, hubs of expertise began to develop in the South, particularly around Norfolk, Virginia, and Birmingham, Alabama The best groups gained regional renown and in the 1920s and 1930s quartet singing assumed a commercial side when groups such as the Famous Blue Jay Singers and the Golden Gate Quartet went professional The former sang in the animated style of Pentecostal congregations ...


Peggy J. Hardman

field adviser, district adviser, and camp director of Girl Scouts, USA, and social worker, was born in Cowpens, South Carolina, the seventh child of ten born to John Wesley Groves, a Methodist minister, and Emma Mae Gray.

The Groves family relocated to Greenwood, South Carolina, to provide better educational opportunities for their children. Holloway attended the Brewer Normal School in nearby Beaufort. Encouraged by one of her teachers, she enrolled in Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1919. Declaring a major in sociology, Holloway doggedly pursued her college education. She wound the campus clocks and worked in the dining hall to augment her meager funds, and overcame a bout of influenza as she strove to complete her degree. In June 1923 she earned her degree in Sociology.

Following her graduation from Fisk, Holloway returned to South Carolina to find work. In 1923 ...


Terry D. Goddard

The designation “Jim Crow laws” refers to legislation in effect in a majority of American states in the nineteenth century intended to enforce segregation in places of business and public transportation. The name of these laws is derived from a minstrel song called “Jim Crow,” which was written by a struggling actor named Thomas Dartmouth Rice in 1838. Rice, a white man who wore blackface makeup, played Jim Crow on the New York stage as a stereotypical African American—a poorly educated and somewhat silly singer and dancer. Jim Crow laws were applied not only to schools, theaters, restaurants, hospitals, and public rest rooms but also to railroad cars and bus terminals. They were enforced in such northern states as Delaware and North Dakota as well as in the South after the Civil War.

As this brief description of these laws indicates, Frederick Douglass s escape from slavery in ...


Thomas J. Davis

Jim Crow’s scandalous history as a term of opprobrium signifying black/white racial segregation started, then, years before the United States abolished slavery in 1865. The phrase settled as a castelike social description marking African Americans as simultaneously accommodated yet ostracized. Jim Crow cropped up in Louisville, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and New York City in the 1830s as the name of a song and dance, “Jump Jim Crow.” The term quickly became more than a minstrel show title. It appeared in Massachusetts in 1841 to describe railroad cars set apart for blacks, but the name became attached to more than the seating arrangements on railroad cars, as Sarah Roberts’s case showed in 1848 When the City of Boston s school board barred five year old Sarah from attending her neighborhood public primary school and instead assigned her to one of two schools appropriate to colored children her father the ...