Assignment: The year is 2015 which marks the 150

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To what extent was Reconstruction a success or failure for African-Americans?


The year is 2015 which marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. You have been hired as part of a special commission, to write a special report on race relations in America since the Civil War. For your specific focus, you have been assigned the time period from 1865-1880. Your main objective is to figure out the ways in which the Reconstruction period was beneficial and/or damaging for African-Americans. This report will be shared with the President of the United States and will be kept at the National Archives so it is important for it to be revised and ready for the most prestigious audiences. In your report, you must argue your main points on the successes or failures of the Reconstruction period for African-Americans and justify your responses using specific evidence from the documents. Your report must be in a written essay format and must focus on answering the question you’ve been assigned. To prepare for this task, you must first analyze the documents by investigating them and answering the questions provided.

Note to Teachers:

This DBQ is designed for 11th grade AP US History students but it may be adjusted or adapted for other levels or types of students.

Created by: Whitney Foehl

To what extent was reconstruction a success or a failure for African-Americans?

Document A: Franchise, And Not This Man? Harper’s Weekly: August 5, 1865

  • Franchise: the privilege or right to vote

  • Suffrage: the right to vote

Document Note:
After Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, black regiments were started in the North, most notably the Massachusetts 54th. Over 200,000 black soldiers fought for the North in the Civil War and when it was over, they expected to be treated with dignity and honor, as a citizen, able to vote. The 13th amendment ended slavery. The 14th amendment gave blacks citizenship. The 15th Amendment allowed black males to vote. Since the Jacksonian period, the meaning of freedom and citizenship was acquainted with voting rights, and even some dictionaries define “freedom” as the right to vote. Throughout U.S. History, military duty and fighting for your country as been tied to the ideologies of freedom and citizenship in a democracy and Reconstruction was no different.

Source: Franchise, And Not This Man? Harper’s Weekly: August 5, 1865

Please answer the following questions about Document A:

1. Who are the characters in this etching?

2. How does each character’s representation affect the meaning or message

(ie: characteristics, facial and body expressions)?

3. Describe the environment in which they are standing. What symbolism could contribute to the overall message?
4. What is the message exactly?

5. How is military duty tied to citizenship rights? What other time periods also tie these together?

6. Would you be more, or less, likely to allow freedmen to vote after seeing this picture?

Explain your position.

To what extent was reconstruction a success or a failure for African-Americans?

Document B: The First Vote, Harper’s Weekly: November 16, 1867

  • Freedmen: name for former slaves after the Civil War

Document Note:
Description accompanying the cover: “The good sense and discretion, and above all the modesty, which the freedmen have displayed in the exercise, for the first time, of the great privilege which has been bestowed upon them, and the vast power which accompanies the privilege, have been most noticeable. Admiration of their commendable conduct has suggested the admirable engraving which we give on the first page of this issue. The freedmen are represented marching to the ballot-box to deposit their first vote, not with expressions of exultation or of defiance of their old masters and present opponents depicted on their countenances, but looking serious and solemn and determined.  The picture is one which should interest every colored loyalist in the country.”

Source: The First Vote Harper’s Weekly: November 16, 1867

Please answer the following questions about Document B and C:

1. Describe the variety of freedmen shown in Doc B.

Why include these different representations?
2. If you lived at the time, how might this news cover (Doc. B) affect your opinions about freedmen?

3. How might the written description accompanying Doc. B affect your opinion?

How does the written account change the way you view the picture?

4. The other etchings (Doc. A and B) show freedmen ready to take their position as U.S. citizens, capable of the vote. How is this etching (Doc. C) different from the previous ones?

5. Jim Crow is an imagined character; are the other freedmen from the previous etchings made up too?

What’s the difference?

6. If you were alive at the time, how would this affect your opinion towards freedmen or blacks in general?

Would you want this man to vote or hold political office? Is he fit to be a citizen? To Vote?

To what extent was reconstruction a success or a failure for African-Americans?

Document C: Jim Crow

  • Minstrelsy: popular theatre shows in the 19th century centered around blackface and stereotyping

  • Blackface: when white actors and performers paint their faces black and “act” out black characters

Document Note:
"Jim Crow" was the most famous Minstrel show character who drew humor because he was depicted as an ignorant, child-like man from the country who was ready for trouble or humiliation wherever he went. Thomas Rice, a white entertainer, invented Jim Crow in the 1820s claiming that his representation was based on a black man who would dance on a board in the streets of New York City. For Minstrel theatre, whites would paint their faces black with burnt cork, don a wig and some tattered clothes, and “play” Jim Crow in a variety of ways. By the 1890s, Jim Crow had become a name given to the racial laws that enabled white supremacy throughout the South. Laws that socially, politically, and economically segregated and discriminated against blacks were often referred to as Jim Crow Laws.

Source: Minstrel Show Image (first seen c. 1830, reproduced throughout 19th century)

To what extent was reconstruction a success or a failure for African-Americans?

Document D:

  • Stereotyping: judgment placed on individuals by connecting them to the larger group they belong to

Document Note:

Minstrel Shows, and the music produced from them, became America’s first form of popular culture seen throughout the country. It was a national phenomenon in the 19th century that was wildly popular, especially in the North. Minstrelsy's comic representation of blacks was rudely distorted and warped. The music, dance, and skits left a lasting impression on the audience, which helped solidify negative assumptions about black people. Even in popular culture today, blacks can be depicted within a set of negative stereotypes that have consequences on how they are viewed by white society. Up until the 1880s, only white males performed Minstrelsy, wearing blackface and playing both male and female roles, but later blacks, like Ernest Hogan performed and even wrote music for shows, often being accused of “race betrayal”.

Source: Minstrel Playbills

Please answer the following questions about Document D:

1. What are some of the different ways that the Minstrel characters are depicted?

Which depictions are negative?

2. If you lived in one of the many regions of America where blacks were not, how would going to a show

affect your views on African-Americans?

3. Are these blacks fit for citizenship, voting, or holding political office? Why or why not?

4. Does it make a difference whether the performers or writers were white or black? Why? Why Not?

5. To what extent does the hip-hop and rap movements of today’s pop culture realistically represent

black life and culture? What stereotypes does this music promote?

To what extent was reconstruction a success or a failure for African-Americans?

Document E and F: Sermons and Speeches by Black Church Leaders

  • Literacy: ability to read and write

  • Illiterate: not being about to read and/or write

Document Note

What did freedom mean for 4 million former slaves known as freedmen? Socially and politically it meant education and establishing their own churches, two things that had been denied to them for so long. Ninety-five percent of freedmen were illiterate and they embraced literacy as the gateway for future success. Preachers became social and political leaders in communities throughout the country as these black institutions became the backbone of culture, society, and even politics. This would remain true for generations.

Doc. E:

“That there is in this country a Race Problem is painfully apparent. It is confined to no particular locality, taking upon itself one form in the South, another in the North. By some unwritten law, white men of all sections of this country have decided to permit the Negro to advance just so far; and then by depriving him of every guaranteed political as well as civil right; by murder and outlawry calculated to make demons quake with fear lest Christian men cheat them out of their demoniac records; by a wicked and senseless prejudice that is transmitted from sire to son and thus kept always alive; by an oppression worse than that from which we were lately delivered, they fettered and burden and wither our manhood and woman-hood, blind to all we have contributed toward the wealth and power of the American people, in every war they have ever waged”.

Source: Sermon Delivered by W. Bishop Johnson / Baptist minister from Washington, DC, 1880s

Doc. F:

“When I speak of the spirit of democracy I have no reference to that spurious, blustering, self-sufficient spirit which derides God and authority on the one hand and crushes the weak and helpless on the other….It is democracy which has demanded the people's participation in government and the extension of suffrage, and it got it. It has demanded a higher wage for labor, and it has got it, and will get more. It demanded the abolition of Negro slavery, and it has got it. Its present demand is the equality of man in the State, irrespective of race, condition, or lineage. The answer to this demand is the solution of the race-problem. In this land the crucial test in the race-problem is the civil and political rights of the black man. The only question now remaining among us for the full triumph of Christian democracy is the equality of the Negro. Nay, I take back my own words. It is not the case of the Negro in this land. It is the nation which is on trial. The Negro is only the touch-stone. By this black man she stands or falls.”

Source: Read at the Church Congress by Alex. Crummell / Buffalo, N.Y., 1888.

Please answer the following questions about Document E and F:

1. What issues do these preachers bring up? Which issues are social and which are political issues?

2. How would you define what they both mention as the “race problem”?

3. Why would schools and churches become so important to African-American communities?

4. What various roles would schools and churches play in seeking equality and civil rights?

5. What was meant by this passage in Doc. E?:

“by murder and outlawry calculated to make demons quake with fear lest Christian men cheat them out of their demoniac records; by a wicked and senseless prejudice that is transmitted from sire to son and thus kept always alive”

To what extent was reconstruction a success or a failure for African-Americans?

Document G: The Freedman’s Bureau

  • Proprietor: the owner of a business

  • Paternalistic: nature of a government acting as a father would over his children

  • Philanthropists: people who donate money and fund charities to make society better

Document Note

In 1865, the U.S. government created the Freedmen’s Bureau to assist 4 million freed slaves in making the transition from slavery to freedom. The agency distributed trainloads of food and clothing provided by the federal government to freed slaves and Southern white refugees. They built hospitals for the freed slaves and gave direct medical aid to more than 1 million of them. The greatest successes of the Freedmen's Bureau were in the field of education. More than 1,000 black schools were built and staffed. But the Freedmen's Bureau was far more than a welfare agency. The Freedmen's Bureau became the only guardian of civil rights the former slaves could turn to. Some blacks were settled on public lands under the Homestead Act of 1862, but the bureau's hopes of massive land redistribution in the South did not materialize and without land, the freed blacks had little choice but to participate in sharecropping arrangements that inevitably became oppressive.

“Such was the work of the Freedmen's Bureau. To sum it up in

brief, we may say: it set going a system of free labor; it

established the black peasant proprietor; it secured the

recognition of black freemen before courts of law; it founded the

free public school in the South. On the other hand, it failed to

establish good will between ex-masters and freedmen; to guard its

work wholly from paternalistic methods that discouraged self-

reliance; to make Negroes landholders in any considerable numbers.

Its successes were the result of hard work, supplemented by the

aid of philanthropists and the eager striving of black men. Its

failures were the result of bad local agents, inherent

difficulties of the work, and national neglect. The Freedmen's

Bureau expired by limitation in 1869, save its educational and

bounty departments.”

Source: Article in Atlantic Monthly (87) by W. E. B Du Bois, 1901

Please answer the following questions about Document G:

1. In your own words…What does DuBois say are the successes of the Bureau?

2. In your own words…What does he say are the failures?
3. Why was this government agency needed?

4. What might have been some of its lasting effects on society?

5. The Bureau didn’t last that long. What do you think happened when its funding and officers left the South?

6. Why is Dubois reflecting on The Bureau in 1901? What could be gained from this kind of reflection?

To what extent was reconstruction a success or a failure for African-Americans?

Document H: Lynching Black People Because They Are Black

  • Vengeance: the desire for revenge

  • Anarchy: political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control

  • Pestilence: something that is considered harmful, destructive, or evil

Document Note
During Reconstruction and for decades after, lynching became a very popular way for white supremacists to terrorize blacks in order to maintain social, political, and economic supremacy. Beating, mutilation, or other brutal physical torture could be followed with shooting, burning, hanging, or any combination of these. The lynch mob themselves were murderers but often never prosecuted. Many civil rights activists like Frederick Douglass and Ida Wells-Barnett made lynching a major focus in their campaigns for justice and continually attempted to educate the public on race relations. It was the due process and equal protection of black citizens (14th amendment) that was seriously violated when lynch mobs were enacted because, of course, being charged with a crime did not mean the person was guilty of it.

“Lynching Black People Because They Are Black”

I have waited patiently, but anxiously, to see the end of the epidemic of mob law and persecution now prevailing at the South. But the indications are not hopeful. Great and terrible as have been its ravages in the past, it now seems to be increasing, not only in the numbers of its victims, but in its frantic rage and savage extravagance. Lawless vengeance is beginning to be visited upon white men as well as black. Our newspapers are daily disfigured by its ghastly horrors. It is no longer local, but national; no longer confined to the South, but has invaded the North. The contagion is spreading, extending, and overleaping geographical lines and State boundaries, and if permitted to go on, it threatens to destroy all respect for law and order, not only in the South, but in all parts of the country, North as well as South. For certain it is that crime allowed to go on unresisted and unarrested will breed crime. When the poison of anarchy is once in the air, like the pestilence that walketh in the darkness, the winds of heaven will take it up and favor its diffusion. Though it may strike down the weak to-day, it will strike down the strong to-morrow.
Source: The Christian Educator, Article by Frederick Douglass, 1984

To what extent was reconstruction a success or a failure for African-Americans?

Document I: The 14th Amendment – Equal Protection Clause

  • Abridge: to deprive or cut off

  • Immunities: (in this case) service or obligation

Document Note
The 14th amendment to the Constitution was supposed to ensure equal protection and due process rights to freedmen. However, in 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson, that a state law requiring racial segregation in public transportation was constitutional as long as the separate facilities were equal. This “separate but equal” doctrine was used to justify racial segregation in public schools and a wide variety of other public facilities and institutions throughout the South. The Plessy decision put legalized segregation in place for the next fifty years until the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision overturned it.

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Source: Constitution of the United States

Please answer the following questions about Document H and I:

  1. Who does Douglass seem to be appealing to in his article? Why?

  1. Why is law and order so important in a democratic republic? Why did Douglass say it was so important to solve this problem right away?

  1. Whose role should it have been to stop racial violence against blacks? The public? Local, state, or federal government? Why?

  1. Why do you think he choose that particular title for his article?

5. What is the 14th amendment guaranteeing exactly?

6. Are there other parts or amendments to the Constitution that don’t get followed or enforced?

If the Constitution is the “law of the land”, how might you explain segregation laws?

AP Student Rubric:

The 8-9 essay / A: 

  • Contains a well-developed thesis that clearly addresses and answers the question 

  • Presents an effective analysis of both sides of the topic in question; treatment may be uneven

  • Supports thesis with substantial and relevant information 

  • Is clearly organized and well written 

  • May contain minor errors 

  • Substantial number of documents are used to support argument

  • Significant outside information is also included in the response 

The 5-7 essay / B: 

  • Contains a thesis which addresses and answers the question

  • Is descriptive but has some analysis and evaluation, showing the complex nature of topic

  • Deals with only one aspect of the question in some depth or deals with both generally

  • Supports thesis with some information 

  • Shows evidence of acceptable organization and writing

  • May contain minor factual errors that do not seriously detract from the quality of essay

  • Some or most documents are used effectively 

  • Supports thesis with some outside information 

The 2-4 essay / C: 

  • Presents a limited, confused and/or poorly developed thesis 

  • Contains little or no analysis and is mostly descriptive, reporting instead of analyzing 

  • Deals with one aspect of the question in a general way or both aspects in a superficial way

  • Confusing organization and writing; organization and language errors interfere

  • May contain major factual or interpretive errors 

  • Quotes documents or uses documents ineffectively

  • Contains little outside information, or information that is relevant to the question 

The 0-1 essay / D: 

  • Contains no thesis, or a thesis which does not address or answer the question 

  • Exhibits inadequate or inaccurate understanding of the question (analysis is absent) 

  • Contains no supporting information, or irrelevant information 

  • Is so poorly organized or written that it doesn’t show an understanding of topic or question

  • May simply paraphrase or restate the question 

  • Contains numerous errors, both major and minor 

  • Exhibits little or no understanding of documents, or ignores them completely 

  • Offers inappropriate, unrelated, or no outside information  

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