While reading Eric Foner’s book I came to appreciate the difficulties the freed black slaves encountered for example, how the previous slave owning class continued to manipulate the freed slaves. Also, I was impressed at the great sacrifice they made when attempting to become educated. Last of all I was surprised at the severity of persecution and abuse of blacks that was still considered legal after they were freed. When the label of slave was removed from the black American, it was meant to clarify that they were human beings.
Human beings eligible to participate in America’s society and culture.
However, racism denied them the privileges of the American citizen. Although they were no longer slaves, they were still considered to be savages, unintelligent, and the lowest class of person in the United States.
Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The Proclamation set the American slave population free. However, it did not indicate how new Black citizens would be incorporated into the free society. Emancipation would redefine how blacks saw themselves and their aspirations, and it would redefine the labor system.
Blacks believed that they could equally share in prosperity and progress with whites. Blacks desperately wanted to move up in social standing and become educated. They desired literacy. They wanted to plant their own crops and have the chance to sell them for profit. They wanted to work hard for the chance of a better life for their children.
The commitment to white supremacy in the South began with the planter’s intention of keeping the institution of slavery.
emancipation as uncompensated liquidation of the nation’s largest concentration of private property and a redefinition of the place of blacks in American society(p.2). Blacks saw emancipation as their opportunity to become involved with society without the burden of being owned by someone. The labor system of free labor versus slavery contained a transition that few in the south were willing to accommodate. Planters went from owning blacks as property, to negotiating a wage in exchange for their labor. Although blacks were declared free, some were required to sign a yearly contract that promised service to one planter.
If a free black chose not to sign the contract, he was intimidated into signing. The underlying message was clear, sign or have you and your family live in constant fear of abuse. With these contracts, planters tightened authority and presided over all details of the lives of blacks. Blacks were closely supervised to the point that the pace of work they desired was routinely challenged. The freedmen were persuaded to sign the contract in order to preserve the labor system that had been prevalent in the South. By voluntarily signing and adhering to contracts, both planters and freedmen would develop the habits of a free labor economy and come to understand their fundamental harmony of interests(p.
75). The Southern white planters would determine these interests. The contracts themselves bound the freedmen into a continued extorted form of slavery. At harvest time, most planters did not pay the blacks their earned wages. Blacks would labor the entire season only to be left with the feeling of desperation that was identical to slavery. Some contracts stipulated that if a crop failed the blacks would receive nothing and fines could be charged against their wages if the planter determined the work was unsatisfactory.
Some contracts allowed the planter to penalize full wages accrued if the freedmen left work. On some plantations physical brutality and corporal punishment continued as if slavery never ended. The overall goal for equal treatment for the freedmen was contradicted as idle white men were never required to sign a labor contract (p.76). The South wanted the amenities that the North had, as long as the primary source of labor went undisturbed. Redefining the black labor force could endanger the entire economic system subscribed by the South.
The prejudice and commitment to the continuation of a plantation slave labor system limited overall progress in the South.
Southern planters would not accept that blacks were free Americans and could leave the area. Blacks however saw things differently. At the initial prospect of being free, they saw themselves as a citizen of the U.S. .