The victory of the Civil War did give millions of slaves their freedom, but the task of rebuilding the South during the Reconstruction Era which lasted from (1865-1877) established a new set of difficult challenges for the newly freed slaves. Southerners continued to cling to the notion that any non-whites were inferior to them, so a number of white men turned to violence in response to these new changes in government. The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist organizations targeted Republican leaders and African-Americans who challenged white authority. I know from books and movies that blacks really suffered in the hands of angry whites, but I wanted to get a deeper understanding of how much they were brutalized and discriminated against. I researched how blacks were treated and the results were worse then I had thought. It was as if slavery hadn’t even ended. Blacks had no more freedom then when they were owned by whites. How did Blacks get targeted after and during the Civil war? In the era before and after Reconstruction following the Civil War African Americans were targeted through racist ideas that manifest themselves in several forms and in several places, such as the military, social groups and laws.
After the Civil War many Democrats were unhappy with former slaves newly gained power. In 1865 the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was created, and it became the most terrifying group of racists America had seen since the end of the war. The name was from the Greek word “kuklos” which means circle, and they chose this because the members thought of each other as a clan of brothers. The KKK was an all white male group started in Pulaski, Tennessee, by Nathan Bedford Forrest, who had been a Confederate General during the Civil War. The members “committed acts of violence primarily undercover, wearing the disguise of a long, flowing white robe and hood, capped by horns”( khan Academy). These uniform were supposed to hide their identities so they could do atrocious thing but not get caught. In figure 1, you can see that although the KKK was mostly white men, women did join to promote white supremacy.
The members said that they were the ghosts of unhappy dead Confederate soldiers who had come back to put blacks into their places again. They quickly became a terrorist organization in service to the Democratic Party and white Supremacy. Under the leadership of Forrest, the KKK “killed hundreds of black Southerners and their white supporters, sexually molested hundreds of black women and men, drove thousands of black families from their homes and thousands of black men and women from their employment, and appropriated land, crops, guns, livestock, and food from black Southerners on a massive scale” (The History of the KKK). The KKK’s most symbolic hate sign was the burning of crosses. They would put one in a black persons yard, and burn the cross as a way to intimidate them. In 1871, the US Congress passed the Three Enforcement Acts that resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of Klan leaders and the end of the Klan terrorism, as well as granting some simple citizen rights to blacks. This created a brief time of peace for blacks but then in the early 1900s they came back to terrorize any minority groups they didn’t like.
The KKK stands for everything that America had fought to end, discrimination and racism because of what you look like. Racism and discrimination to a certain ethnicity has existed throughout human history . They are defined as the “hatred of one person by another — or the belief that another person is less than human — because of skin color, language, customs, place of birth or any reason that supposedly reveals the basic nature of that person”(ADL). It has always been a prominent part of Southern culture, and it is what has kept the two differently colored people separated for so long. By equating true Americans with Anglo Saxon Protestants ” it fueled intolerance for blacks, Catholics, Jews, immigrants, and those it deemed immoral and lawless”(Taylor). Blacks as well as other minority groups are seen by racists as merely subhuman, more like beasts than men. There are many racist books and movies like Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and The Birth of the Nation produced by D.W. Griffith that depict black people as low and unintelligent; “sad with the uncomprehending sadness of a monkey’s face.”(Mitchell). Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation show the KKK as brave freedom fighters, slavery as righteous and kind and freedom for blacks as harmful and misguided. A lot of Southern whites agreed with this idea, and they thought the blacks would use their newfound freedom to destroy society so it would be better for America if only whites had control. A southern writer said, “‘this is said without offense to other civilizations, but we do believe that ours, through all possible growth and expansion, should stay the same kind that was brought forth upon this continent.'”Taylor). This southern writer believed that blacks were biologically inferior, are naturally uncivilized, are more likely to be sick and spread illnesses like Aids, and have a higher chance of having illiterate kids. Racism and discrimination against blacks were systematically put into place to solidify the pre- existing social order.
Laws were not in favor of blacks. The government created rules that restricted their freedom, and reduce the amount of influence they had on society and politics. In 1865 a set of laws called Black Codes were made in legislation. These Codes appeared throughout the south as a legal way to put blacks citizens into servitude, and control everything they did from where they lived, went to school, and whether they voted or not.The Codes gave authorities the right to arrest and force black people in labor for minor infractions. One type of Black Code were the Jim Crow laws, which were established in the South beginning in the late 19th century. These laws made it so that Blacks couldn’t use the same public facilities as whites, live in many of the same towns or go to the same schools.There would be signs that said for “whites only” or “colored peoples section” which were constant reminders of the enforced racial order . In legal theory, blacks received “separate but equal treatment”, but in reality most of their facilities were inferior to those for whites as shown in figure two. Interracial marriage was also illegal mostly in Florida. The law stated “All marriages between a white person and a negro, or between a white person and a person of negro descent to the fourth generation inclusive, are hereby forever prohibited.”(Walker) If two differently colored people were found together, they got up to a year in prison and a fine of five hundred dollars. As well as having almost no political or social rights, black men were treated very poorly compared to white men in the military. White men believed that these black soldiers weren’t as skilled as them and were suited for jobs such as cooks or carpenters. A black soldier wrote that his families were not protected from aggressive white soldiers so their home was constantly vandalized, and “the rations for our wives and families have been (and are now cut down) to one half the regular ration of our white comrades… and if any one defends themselves against them they are taken to the gard house for it.”(Wynell Burroughs Schamel). The black soldiers were paid 10 dollars but three dollars was deducted for food and clothing, but white soldiers were paid 13 dollars with no deductions. Unhappy with the way they were being treated blacks mobilized and took action to make their situation better. The government responded by creating the 14th amendment which addressed citizenship rights and protection under the law for all people and the 15th amendment that gave males voting rights regardless of race, or the color of their skin. Even with these rights, blacks were still treated unequally because the government still used methods to disenfranchise blacks such as poll taxes, which most people couldn’t afford, and literacy tests but most blacks couldn’t read or write so they failed and then couldn’t vote.
Before Reconstruction and for many years after the KKK were against anyone except Anglo-Saxons having power, so they violated black rights which increased racism in the South. In the years following the end of slavery black Americans faced formidable barriers in political, social and economic equality. Life was never easy for blacks during slavery, but they thought with their new freedom maybe life would get better but the racism and distrust grew.
Although people have fought to end racial discrimination, it’s never going to completely go away because people just automatically classify themselves as an “us” and “them”, so the people in the “them” group may be treated differently and may be seen as dangerous, inferior or immoral as the blacks were seen by the Southern whites.