African Americans' Rights Denied

During the Reconstruction Era in the South, most states saw coalitions of freedmen, recent Black and White arrivals from the North ("carpetbaggers"), and white Southerners who supported Reconstruction ("scalawags") cooperate to form Republican biracial state governments. They introduced various Reconstruction programs including: funding public schools, establishing charitable institutions, raising taxes, and funding public improvements such as improved railroad transportation and shipping.

However, as the era progressed white Democrats, calling themselves "Redeemers", regained control of the South state by state, sometimes using fraud and violence to control state elections. A deep national economic depression following the Panic of 1873 led to major Democratic gains in the North, the collapse of many railroad-building plans in the South, and a growing sense of frustration in the North.

The end of Reconstruction was a staggered process, and the period of Republican control ended at different times in different states. With the Compromise of 1877, military intervention in Southern politics ceased and Republican control collapsed in the last three state governments in the South. This was followed by a period which white Southerners labeled "Redemption," during which white-dominated state legislatures enacted Jim Crow laws, disenfranchising most Black citizens through a combination of constitutional amendments and election laws beginning in 1890. The white Southern Democrats' memory of Reconstruction played a major role in imposing the system of white supremacy and second-class citizenship for African Americans through systemic Jim Crow laws.

 

Several aspects of Jim Crow laws were used to deny Black citizens their Constitutional rights. Southern state legislatures passed laws that made voter registration and voting more difficult, especially when administered by White staff in a discriminatory way. This resulted in many African Americans losing their ability to vote. This was mostly done through poll taxes and literacy tests. 

Georgia’s 1877 constitution authorized a poll tax, in which citizens had to pay in order to vote. Most whites got around the provision through "grandfather clauses" which exempted those whose ancestors could vote before the war from having to pay the tax. 

Other states followed and in 1890, Mississippi adopted a new constitution, which required voters pay poll taxes and pass a literacy test. The literacy test was subjectively applied by White administrators, and the two provisions effectively disenfranchised most Black residents and many poor whites.  Other southern states quickly adopted new constitutions and what they called the "Mississippi plan". By 1908, all states of the former Confederacy had passed new constitutions or suffrage amendments. Legislators created a variety of barriers, including longer residency requirements, rule variations, and literacy tests, which were subjectively applied against minorities, or were particularly hard for the poor to fulfill.

During the same time, fraud and violence was used by paramilitary groups such as the Ku Klux Klan to turn Republicans and Black politicians out of office. During the 1870s, more than a dozen Black men, many of whom were born into slavery, were elected to the Congress. Hundreds of others held local elected offices across the South. However, at least 35 Black officials were murdered by the Klan and other white supremacist organizations during the Reconstruction era. As Black voting rights were stripped away, Black representation in government faded.

African Americans were also denied their basic rights like the right to a fair trial. Far too often, Black men were accused of a crime and lynched before a trial could even be held. This was regularly done not for any real crime, but because a Black man refused to accept "his place" or looked the wrong way at a White person. 

Eventually, the Jim Crow system created an almost entirely segregated society across the South. Jim Crow state constitutional provisions mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, and public transportation. Even restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains were segregated between White and Black people. The U.S. military was already segregated. In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson, a Southern Democrat, initiated the segregation of federal workplaces.

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