and the Issue of Equality:
How Hope Was Not Fostered After the Civil War
was the term given to the stage of American history where the Civil War was
concluded and the country was forced to rebuild itself after the tragedies of a
country turned against itself. Yet the
major condition of Reconstruction was the nature of racism: The original goal of Reconstruction was to
create a country where both white and black citizens were literal equals,
rather than socially dissimilar.
Indeed, those who believed strongly in Reconstruction insisted
that: There had never been an age like
this one before and there would never be one again. (McPherson: 1982)
while the conditions of Reconstruction were suitable for the achievement of
these goals, they did not come to pass.
The overall conditions of racism in the country rose up, driving down
the hope that black citizens and progressive whites felt concerning the state
of racial relations.
The states in the
South were particularly opposed to the acceptance of blacks as their social and
Soon after the Civil War was concluded and
Reconstruction begun, new laws began to surface in U.S. politics. These laws made it quite evident that many
people wished to promote a condition known as separate but equal, where
blacks and whites were legally equal but could be kept physically
separate. These conditions were known
as the Jim Crow Acts, where the disfranchisement of the United States allowed
for the promotion of acts that kept blacks and whites completely apart.
According to legal standards, there must be
comparable facilities for both races, but these facilities need never be used by
either blacks nor whites, depending on which facilities were discussed. The separation went so far as to extend not
just to separate restrooms but all the way down to separate mirrors in public places!
One black writer remarked on the situation
The extraordinary thing about the wall
that fear built is that it is of so recent an origin. There were no separate
but equal privies in slavery time. Nor, as C. Vann Woodward has shown in his
excellent book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, were there separate but equal
rest rooms for a considerable period thereafter. (Foner: 1989)
codes were protested many times by the black communities, which were rapidly
gaining some form of power in the North but were basically little above freed
slaved in the South.
This was also
represented in the Black Codes, or a series of laws that were believed to
establish order in the African- American communities. These Black Codes were used to create
legally- binding states of wedlock for blacks living in relationships, or those
who the white public presumed to be
living in such relationships. These
laws also created legal protocols for the ownership of children of black
parents. However, above all else the
Black Codes prohibited the marriage of white people and black people. In addition to this, the Black Codes also
established the legality of actions taken by black citizens, and the actions
that could be taken against them if it was found that they had somehow violated
a law. The Black Codes first went into
effect in South Carolina in 1865 and were quickly adapted by many other Southern
Perhaps the worst part of Reconstruction,
however, was the fact that the U.S. government did not go to any steps to
promote or preserve the situation created to aid the back citizens of
America. (Stampp: 1967)
While the black citizens finally believed that they would be treated as
equals in the eyes of the law, and were indeed even promised this through the deeds of Reconstruction, the overall
state of the matter was that there was absolutely no enforcement of these
progressive laws. The final say in the
matter was that the white citizens of the United States determined the extent
of the Reconstruction, and in many places the whites were racist and not in
favor of promoting inequality. The
final result of this was that racism was fostered in face of government
statutes that were supposed to completely destroy such behaviors.
In conclusion, Reconstruction in the United
States created a situation that greatly encouraged the black citizens to
believe that equality had finally come to pass. However, rapid changes in the behavior of the white citizens
established separate but equal laws that destroyed this hope.
(1989) Reconstruction: America’s
Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. New
(1982) Ordeal by Fire: The
Civil War and Reconstruction. New
(1967) The Era .