Notes on African-American History Since 1900



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1863

January 26 - The 1st South Carolina Volunteer Regiment (African Descent) engage the enemy at Township, Florida, shortly after being mustered in at Beaufort.


May 18 - 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Regiment engage the enemy at Sherwood, Missouri.
May 22 thru July 8 - Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana. In the Union forces were Louisiana Native Guard and the Corps D'Afrique Regiments.

May 28 - Newly organized 54th Massachusetts Volunteers depart Boston for an assignment in South Carolina.


June 7 - Battle of Milliken's Bend, Louisiana. Union forces were 1250 contrabands recently enlisted in the 9th and 11th Louisiana Colored Volunteer and the 1st Mississippi Colored Volunteer Regiments, and 160 whites from the 23rd Iowa Regiment. The battle fought mainly with bayonets and rifle butts was said to have been one of the most bloodiest of the war. Hundreds were killed on both sides.
July 17 - Battle of Honey Springs (Elk Creek), Indian Territory, (Gettysburg of the West). 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Regiment fought with Union forces. Indian regiments fought on both sides.
July 18 - Assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers in which heavy losses occurred.
1864

February 20 - Battle of Olustee (Florida). Heavy losses suffered by the Union forces that included the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, the 8th and 35th United States Colored Infantry Regiments. The Union forces were defeated.


April 12 - Massacre of Union Soldiers, African American enlisted and White officers, at Fort Pillow, Tennessee. (See page for details)
September 12 - A letter was written by General Robert E. Lee to President Jefferson Davis stating that Blacks should be used in support services in the Confederate Army.
September 29 - Battle of Chaffin's Farm (New Market Heights), Virginia. Twelve U.S. Colored Infantry Regiments and one Cavalry Regiment charged into battle. Thirteen men serving with the United States Colored Infantry Regiments were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
November 30 - Battle of Honey Hill, South Carolina. Participating were the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Volunteers, the 32nd, 35th, and 102nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiments.
1865

March 31 - April 9 - Battle of Fort Blakely, Alabama and participating were nine U. S. Colored Infantry Regiments plus two U. S. Colored Infantry Regiments serving as Engineer units.



Honors and Recognition Bestowed on African-American Soldiers
There was finally some recognition of the contributions of men who fought valiantly in Civil War. The list of those who were officially recognized with medal is short and worthy of presenting23
Sergeant-Major C.A. Fleetwood, 4th Regiment.

Color - Sergeant Alfred B. Hilton, 4th Regiment.

Private Charles Veal, 4th Regiment.

1st a Seargeant James Brownson, 5th Regiment. Sergeant-Major Milton M. Holland, 5th Regiment. 1st Sergeant, Robert Finn, 5th Regiment.

1st Sergeant Powhaten Beaty, 5th Regiment.

Sergeant Samuel Gilchrist, 36th Regiment.

Sergeant William Davis, 36th Regiment.

Corporal Miles James, 36th Regiment.

Private James Gardner, 36th Regiment.

1st Sergeant Edward Ratcliff, 38th Regiment.



Private William Barnes, 38th Regiment. African-American
African-American Women Aid the War Effort
African-American women took civilian jobs as cooks, servants, laundresses, seamstresses, and nurses. Through acts of sabotage, arson, strikes and even self-mutilation, the African slaves protested their lives of servitude. Many of these acts of resistance were led by women. The slaves inward desire for freedom, which plagued southern plantation owners, resulted in insurrections and flights through the Underground Railroad by fugitive slaves. Harriet Tubman was the recognized leader of the Underground Railroad of the two, the possibility of slave insurrections drew the most fear among Southerners. The establishment of the Underground Railroad also aroused angry protests from white Southerners that Northerners were assisting in the destruction of the southern way of life by aiding and abetting in the loss of southern wealth.
Seth Teter writes, the Underground Railroad was more than a means of escaping slavery. With the aid of a distinct community of white northerners, it was an overall resistance movement of African-Americans against an oppressive society. The principles of freedom and equality were the inspiration behind these actions that helped to destroy the institution of slavery. In light of this definition, the Civil War played an important role as an extension of the Underground Railroad.
The Union Army was the final station in the Underground Railroad for many African-Americans. After their escape, several thousand slaves found refuge among the men that were fighting for their cause. The roles that African-Americans, such as these men, played in furthering the attempts of the Union Army is described by Gen. Jenkins: “There are now over four thousand Contrabands, here, the men are being made soldiers, and, the women, and juveniles work on government farm.”
Although the acquisition of contrabands might have come for the desire for more man­power, this was the first large-scale, aggressive act of removing African-America from slavery. It was not uncommon for a slave who escaped via the Underground Railroad to remain within the system in order to help others do the same.
At the time, the Civil War was viewed by Underground Railroad activists as another opportunity to help guide slaves to freedom any way they could. One such man, Benjamin Tanquany wrote: "Was a good hand in the late unpleasantness just before the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. I passed a few through the lines while in the employ of the U.S. was glad to have the chance."
Tanquany was referring to the actions of some soldiers who were able to guide slaves to freedom by leading them behind Union lines where they would be relatively safe. The attitude depicted by Tanquany ties in very closely with that of the pre-war abolitionism that helped to establish the Underground Railroad. The diverse backgrounds of the aforementioned soldiers indicate that the presence of the Underground Railroad in the Civil War was displayed throughout the nation. The statement made by this movement was an essential step in abolishing slavery that continued until the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The northern defiance of slavery born from the Underground Railroad reached its peak in the Civil War and was the turning point in leading African-Americans to freedom.
Timeline of African-American's Participation in Civil War Events

1861

April 19 - A projected trip to Haiti was canceled by Frederick Douglass and he called for the recruitment of African-American troops.

May 24 - General Benjamin Butler coined the term "contraband" and refused to surrender slaves who had sought refuge in his command at Fort Monroe, Virginia.

August 30 - General Fremont issued an order confiscating property of Confederates and emancipation of their slaves. The order caused wide protest and was disavowed by President Lincoln. General Fremont was subsequently relieved of command by President Lincoln.



1862

January 15 - A letter was written by General Thomas Sherman requesting the War Department send teachers to Port Royal, South Carolina to teach ex-slaves left on plantations under control of Union forces. Edward L. Pierce submitted a plan which subsequently began the Port Royal Experiment.

February 4 - The enrolling of free African-Americans in the Confederate Army was debated in the Virginia House of Delegates. No action was taken.

April 3 - The U.S. Senate voted 29-14 to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.

April 11 - The U.S. House of Representatives voted 93-39 to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia.

May 9 - General David Hunter, Commander of the Department of the South (Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina), issued an Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in those states and also authorized the arming of able-bodied ex-slaves. Shortly thereafter, he organized the first South Carolina Colored Regiment. The unit was subsequently disbanded except for one company.

May 13 - Robert Small sailed the Confederate gunboat Planter from Charleston and delivered it to Union Navy.

May 19 - President Lincoln repudiated General David Hunter's Emancipation Act of May 9 and disavowed his order.

July 17 - Adoption of the Second Confiscation Act and Militia Act by the Administration which authorized emancipation and the employment of fugitive slave labor as weapons of war. The two Act declared "forever free" all captured and fugitive slaves of the Confederates and authorized the m

obilization of African-Americans in "any military or naval service for which they may be found competent."

August 11- General Ulysses S. Grant issued an order in Corinth, Mississippi utilizing the services of all fugitive slaves behind his lines.

August 14 - President Lincoln advocated the colonization of African-Americans in Central America during a meeting with a delegation of free African-Americans.

August 21 - Union Generals David Hunter and John Phelps denounced by the confederate President because of their wish to recruit slaves for the Union Army.

September 16 - Abolitionist Frederick Douglass rejected the proposal by President Lincoln to colonize free African-Americans in Central America.

September 22 - The first draft of Emancipation Proclamation read to the cabinet by President Lincoln. Military Service begins.

September 27 thru November 24 - The 0, 2nd, and 3rd Louisiana Native Guard Regiments (African Descent) organized and mustered into the Union Army in New Orleans.

October 10 - Confederate President Jefferson Davis requested the state of Virginia to draft 4500 African-Americans to build fortifications around Richmond.

October 27-28 - The 1g Kansas Colored Volunteer Regiment engaged the Confederates at Island Mound, Missouri. The regiment was organized by General Jim Lane and engaged the enemy prior to being mustered into the Union Army.

December 23 - A proclamation issued by Confederate President Jefferson Davis declared that General Benjamin Butler's soldiers be considered "robbers and criminals, deserving death." The statement was interpreted by Confederate soldiers as justifying the massacre of African-American Union soldiers.

1863

January 1- President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The document was directed only to the states that seceded from the Union. Slaves states that remained with the Union were not affected.

January 12 - The Confederate Congress approved President Jefferson Davis' proclamation of December 23, 1862.

January 20 - Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts was authorized by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to recruit and organize African-American soldiers.

M

arch 21 - Frederick Douglass issued a declaration, “Men of Color, To Arms” He began to recruit troops, including his sons Charles and Lewis.

March 26 - The Secretary of War issued an order directing Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas to organize African-American regiments in the Mississippi Valley.

March 30 - 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers mustered in to serve with the Union Army. April 2 - Confederate government disturbed by "Bread Riot" in Richmond, Virginia.

May 22 - The War Department established U.S. Colored Troops to handle the recruitment, organization, and service of the newly organized African-American regiments commanded by white officers.

July 13 - New York City draft riots - numerous African-Americans were killed and others fled the city.



1864

April 8 - Thirteenth Amendment passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 38-6.

June 15 - Thirteenth Amendment fell short of the required two-thirds majority in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 96-66.

July 8 - President Lincoln announced support of the Thirteenth Amendment.


November 7 - President Jefferson Davis proposed that the Confederate purchase slaves for army support work, and freeing them on discharge.

November 8 - President Lincoln re-elected.

December 3 - The 25th Army Corps organized. (The first and only army corps made up of all African-American infantry regiments.)

December 6 - President Lincoln in the Annual Message to Congress requested reconsideration of the Thirteenth Amendment.


December 16 - General William T. Sherman departed, Atlanta and began the March to the Sea. Two days later President Jefferson Davis ordered the use of African-Americans to build obstructions to the advancing army.

December 21 – Second Grierson raid launched from Memphis enroute to Vicksburg, Mississippi with the 3rd U.S. Colored Cavalry often leading the charge.


1865

January 1 - The U.S. House of Representatives began to debate the Thirteenth Amendment. January 31 - Thirteenth Amendment passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 119-56. March 4 - President Lincoln inaugurated.


March 13 - Recruitment of African-American soldiers approved by the Confederate Congress and signed by President Jefferson Davis. Troops were enlisted under this act.
April 2 - Confederate government abandoned Richmond, Virginia and the city was occupied by Union soldiers the next day.

April 9 - General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. Three of the 17 units that moved toward Appomattox from the west to block General Lee's army were U.S. Colored Infantry Regiments. Three other U. S. Colored Infantry Regiments were positioned in the rear. Thirty-six African-American Confederates were paroled at Appomattox.

April 14 - President Lincoln was shot and he died the next day. Andrew Johnson became President.

May 12 - General 0. Howard appointed to head the Freedman's Bureau.

December 18 - Thirteenth Amendment ratified after approval by twenty-seven states. (Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Mississippi rejected the amendment.)

African-Americans in the Union Army during the Civil War:
178,975, organized into 166 all-African-American regiments
African-Americans in the Union Navy during the Civil War:
One in four Union sailors were African-American. Of the 118,044 sailors in the Union Navy, 29,511 were African-American.
Sherman’s Special Field Order 15
After William T. Sherman’s army arrived in Savannah; he announced freedmen would receive land.
On January 16, 1865, he issued Special Field Order #15. This military directive set aside a thirty-mile-wide tract of land along the Atlantic coast from Charleston, South Carolina, 245 miles south to Jacksonville, Florida. White owners had abandoned the land, and Sherman reserved it for black families. The head of each family would receive possessory title to forty acres of land. Sherman also gave the freedmen the use of army mules, thus giving rise to the slogan “forty acres and a mule.”24
In the period of six months, 40,000 freed people were working 400,000 acres in the South Carolina and Georgia low country and on the Sea Islands.
After the Civil War, the promise deferred:
As the Civil War was ending on March 3, 1865 Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, known as the Freedman’s Bureau.
In July 1865, the bureau took a first step toward distributing land when General Howard issued Circular 13 ordering agents to set aside 40-acre plots for freedmen. But the allocation had hardly begun when the order was revoked and it was announced that land already distributed under General Sherman’s Field Order #15 was to be returned to its previous owners.25
The Freedmen’s Bureau was able to help establish through land grants, 160 African-American colleges and a Freedmen’s bank. While land was taken back from African-Americans, land had been granted to European immigrants who were moving west in the Homestead Act of 1862. It opened up the West and Midwest for the railroad.
Fort Pillow

Tennessee fort that, on April 12, 1864, was the site of a massacre of black Union soldiers by Confederate troops led by General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Union garrison was composed of 577 men, of whom 262 were African American. Though the official report stated that 300 Union soldiers had been murdered after they had surrendered, it is believed that the actual total was closer to 200. The majority of these were African Americans, who were slaughtered amidst cries of "kill them, God damn them; it is General Forrest's orders." Eyewitnesses stated that Confederate soldiers deliberately murdered scores of unarmed men, some of whom were on their knees, asking for mercy. There were also numerous - though disputed - reports of wounded soldiers being shot and of others being burned or buried alive. Forrest himself bragged that the Mississippi River "was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards." Six days after the fall of Fort Pillow, the 1st Kansas Colored regiment lost 117 dead and 65 wounded at the battle of Poison Spring in Arkansas. Again, Confederate troops murdered wounded soldiers and those attempting to surrender. The 2nd Kansas Colored regiment took revenge for their sister unit on April 30, at the battle of Jenkins Ferry. Over 150 Confederate troops were killed or mortally wounded; 2nd Kansas Colored suffered 15 killed and 55 wounded. In response to the Fort Pillow and Poison Spring massacres, African American soldiers fought furiously, often refusing to take prisoners or to submit to surrender themselves. General Forrest became Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan after the war.26


1862 Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation September 22,

1862, implemented January 1, 1863 that affected only seceded states (not Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, or Delaware).

Constitutionally, Lincoln could not recruit African-Americans to fight for the union unless they were free because they were property so he had to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

In the South Reconstruction was more difficult to bear than defeat in the Civil War. A large number of Southern whites lost their vote while Blacks from the North could vote. For Southern whites it seems that all power was being placed in the hands of those who in their opinion were least qualified. This created a backlash and many secret societies such as the Ku Klux Klan arose as whites tried to fight the effects of Reconstruction.

"40 Acres and A Mule" - demand of ex-slaves Informal Promise of the union generals -that plantations would be broken and divided among slaves after Civil War. (Sherman) gives African-Americans Land (January 16, 1865) (20 miles inland) Special Field Order No. 15. Economics was a key to Reconstruction. Much of the land was taken back after Reconstruction.

1865 Amendment of the Constitution abolished all slavery in the United States



December 18, 1868 (ratified)
1868 14th Amendment grants blacks citizenship July 28.

1870 Amendment gave blacks the vote March 30

After the Civil War, as before, the African-American nation primarily raised cotton. Before 1865, cotton plantations included some acreage of food crops. After the Civil War the Northern imperialists denied African-Americans the ability to raise any substantial amount of food crops to feed themselves or their livestock. Seed was provided from the North through the planter-merchant and that seed was cotton. Thus the African-American nation became directly dependent on the North for its food. As the attempts at land division were crushed. African-Americans focused their hope for land outside the Black Belt.
Who was John Mercer Langston?

John Mercer Langston was one of the first Black lawyers in Ohio. He was born in Virginia in 1829, the son of a plantation owner and a free woman of Indian and African descent. After he and his brother lost their parents in 1834 they lived in a white household in Ohio until the guardians moved to Missouri. They then lived with Black and white families until they reached maturity. He studied at Oberlin College from age 14-22, earning three degrees and perfecting his skills as an orator. He helped found the Ohio State Anti-Slavery Society. He served as township clerk and as an Oberlin councilman. Although never a slave, he strongly believed that the anti-slavery movement aimed at the "preservation of life itself.”


He studied at Oberlin College earning A.B., M.A. and theological degrees. He attended his first black convention in Cleveland in 1848. His leadership emerged in Political Abolitionism. He helped establish the Ohio State Anti-Slavery Society, campaigned for the Free Soil and Republican parties. He became the first black lawyer in the West. He was also an Oberlin councilman.
Who was Isaac Myers and what was the National Equal Rights League?

He was an early labor leader in the Knights of Labor, which attempted to organize black workers following the industrial development of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Isaac Myers was president of the Colored Caulkers Trade Union Society. He and then vice-president of the Society, George T. Downing spearheaded the formation of the Colored National Labor Union, founded December 6, 1869.

On December 6, 1869, 214 delegates from eighteen states assembled in the Union League Hall in Washington, D.C. to convene the first convention of the Colored National Labor Union. By 1869, Black leaders, North and South, had reached the conclusion that equal employment opportunities and better pay could only be achieved through independent organization. What began in July as a local Black workers' union in Baltimore, soon expanded into the Colored National Labor Convention in December. The Colored National Labor Union was organized as a confederation of autonomous local and state unions. Unlike the NLU, the CNLU included all workers-industrial, agricultural, skilled craftsmen, and common laborers - men and women alike, not just skilled mechanics.


Member unions were from kept barring Black workers from membership. The NLU also supported independent political action through the Labor Reform Party, and demanded that Blacks abandon the Republican Party to join with the Reformers. Blacks, however, were ardent supporters of the party that sponsored Radical Reconstruction.
National Equal Rights League formed in 1864.

Disbanded and join with the union leagues because they had faith in the Republican Party.

The major all-African American movement after the Civil War was the National Equal Rights League (NERL). The NERL was an outgrowth of the National African Americans (Negro) Conventions that resumed activity during the Civil War.
"Prior to the 1864 presidential election, a National Convention of Colored Citizens convened in October at Syracuse, New York. A total of 140 delegates, including 7 from Southern states, established the National Equal Rights League (NERL) and elected Frederick Douglas president," Hanes Walton Jr., Black Political Parties pp. 44

The National Equal Rights League pushed for federal anti-lynching legislation and anti­discrimination.

March 3, 1865 - Congress passed Freedman' Bureau as a permanent institution.

Counter-revolution occurs:

On April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson became president. Johnson on May 28, 1865 gave amnesty to ex-confederates who called themselves "redeemers"; that is redeemers for re-establishing white supremacy. They assumed power by any means necessary in eight Southern states evoking Black Codes.
What did Andrew Johnson do after Lincoln's Assassination?

Andrew Johnson betrayed Lincoln's plan by promising amnesty on May 2$, 1865 and pardon to ex-Confederates with less than $20,000.00 property, following their oath of allegiance to the Constitution (except for slaves) Andrew Johnson called it restoration instead of Reconstruction. Johnson hoped to build a new political coalition of northern democrats, conservative Republicans, and Southern Unionists. He opposed political rights for the freedmen.


Andrew Johnson was a secret Copperhead who provided for amnesty for ex-confederates (May 29, 1865). He also named former rebels Governors of Southern States, tried to save Jefferson Davis, the former President of the Confederacy. He also issued several Reconstruction proclamations to rebel States from May 29 – July 13, 1865. Eight Southern States evoked Black codes that were similar to slave codes:

  1. Grandfather clause (a men could not vote unless grandfather
    could vote prior to 1860)

  2. Could not bear arms

  3. No interracial marriage

  4. Could not serve on juries

  5. Vagrancy Laws


What did the Congressional Committee of fifteen do?

They took over Reconstruction in the South from the President. Seven were from the house, eight from the Senate. They censored President Andrew Johnson bringing him up on impeachment charges and passed a congressional plan for Reconstruction. Many former slaves had received the impression that abandoned and confiscated lands were to be distributed to them in lots of forty acres by January 1866. This impression stemmed from the Confederate apprehension during the war that the Union government planned to seize their land and convey it to ex-slaves, and from the bill creating the Freedmen's Bureau, which gave tacit encouragement to such a plan. Although nothing came of it, the federal government sought to encourage the dispersion of populations from congested centers by opening public lands, under the Southern Homestead Act of 1866, in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida to all settlers regardless of race. Eighty acres were available for the head of each family. Within a year ex-slaves secured homesteads in Florida covering 160,960 acres, and in Arkansas they occupied 116 out of 243 homesteads. By 1874 blacks in Georgia owned more than 350,000 acres of land. "Forty acres and a mule" as a gift of the government had not been realized, but blacks were acquiring land wherever possible in their effort to achieve economic security.27


Often when African-Americans seized plantation land the Union Troops (who were mainly African-American) would be called in to get the African-Americans off the land. On several occasions the Union Troops disobeyed orders and sided with the African-Americans occupying the land. This caused a crisis during Reconstruction.

Land and Reconstruction:

President Lincoln's Reconstruction plan included the sale of confiscated plantations to ex-slaves. Lincoln on September 16, 1863 instructed commissioners to dispose of 60,000 acres of land in South Carolina for public sale in lot, not larger than 320 acres, except for certain portions to be retained for military, educational and charitable purposes. He specified that certain plantations named in the order be reserved for sale to "head of family of the African race." Lincoln directed that sales be made in twenty-acre lots at a cost of $1.25 an acre. After his assassination, incoming President Andrew Johnson rescinded the order.

Radical Republicans Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner pushed through Congress and official apology for slavery and provisions for 40 acres to be distributed to the freed people, but President Andrew Johnson vetoed the bill.
The Radical Republicans couldn't get a two-thirds vote in Congress to override Johnson's veto. As a last attempt to give the freed people some form of economic security, the Radical Republicans pushed through the Southern Homestead Act of 1866 where the Federal Government opened public lands for sale in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida to all settlers regardless of race. Through racism in the Freedmen's Bureau, whites received the best land and African-Americans the worst.

Reconstruction: The Promise — 40 Acres and a Mule, 1861 - 1867

Reconstruction was the development of favorable capitalist relations in the southern states. It was in its political and social economic content a continuation of the civil war and a second phase of the bourgeois—democratic revolution of 1861-1877. The promise of "40 acres and a mule" was to be the confiscation of planters’ plantations, redistributed among the ex-slaves. No one knows exactly where or how it originated or how it was recorded. We do know that it was a widespread rumor among the yet-to-be emancipated slaves during the early part of the Civil War, and a constant mass demand of the Freedmen during and after Reconstruction 1861-1877. Some estimate that it was started as a rumor or promise by the U.S. War Department of the union to get slaves to start mass resistance behind the enemy lines and eventually to join the union ranks.


The Port Royal Experiment: 1861-1862

The U.S. Navy occupied the South Carolina Sea Islands (Port Royal) in November 1861 and all the white inhabitants fled to the mainland. At Port Royal the U.S. capitalists decided to set up an experiment among the slaves, to serve as an example that they could be organized into free laborers. At Port Royal, there was a community of 10,000 slaves who were accustomed to organizing their own labor remained. The system of labor employed gave these Africans a unique control over the pace, and length of their workday.




  1. Their daily tasks were assigned to rice and cotton plantations.

  2. After completion of their work, they were left with free time to hunt, fish,
    cultivate crops or enjoy leisure time.

  3. The organization of free labor enabled slaves to acquire small amounts of
    property by selling to their masters or nearby towns, crops raised on their own
    time.

After a period of time the Gideonites, paternalistic white northerners (wage labor) prevented Africans from charting their own course to free labor.

The Homestead Act of 1862:

The Homestead Act of 1862 gave European immigrants most of the remaining native American lands to be formed into capitalist farms and extend the midwest and west for the railroads.


The Emancipation Movement in Congress:

On August 6, 1861 the first Confiscation Act was passed by Congress. This law provided that all slaves who were used by the rebels to prosecute the war were henceforth free. Lincoln reluctantly signed this law, fearing even this partial attack upon slavery would push the border states into succession. He said that he would use his own discretion in applying the Act, and in fact, he practically ignored it.

The next step was taken on March 31,1862 when President Lincoln signed a bill, passed by Congress, which prohibited the army and navy from returning fugitive slaves to slave holder claimants. Any officer violating the law would be discharged from service, and would be forever ineligible to any appointment in the military or naval service of the United States. This ended the shameful practice by northern generals of returning Africans to slavery, and it also stimulated the flight of slaves to the northern lines. On April 16, 1862 Congress took another important action and freed the 3,000 slaves in the District of Columbia; but a clause was included in the law providing $300 compensation to the slaveholders for each slave set free. Despite its compensation feature, this Act was welcomed by the abolitionists.
The Confiscation Act of 1862:

In the Confiscation Act of 1862 Congress placed a powerful revolutionary weapon in Lincoln's hands. The Act authorized the president "to cause the seizure of all the estates and property, money, stocks, credit and effects" of all military and civil officers of the confederacy or of its states and after 60 days' notice to confiscate the property of all "engaged in armed rebellion" against the United States.1



Emancipation of the slaves:

The demand for emancipation of the slaves was escalading as the civil war proceeded. Fredrick Douglas, Harriet Tubman and hundreds of freedmen constantly petitioned, picketted and demanded that Lincoln free the slaves. The outbreak of the civil war was accompanied by many slave revolts, a general strike by slaves on the plantations and a wholesale flight of slaves to the union lines. The civil war was a revolution because it brought about "a transference of power from one class to another". Among the several elements on the left were the African American people. They were the most definite revolutionary of any of the groups or classes in the civil war period. This was true of both the slaves in the south and of the freedmen and women in the north.

There were several basic plans in their general program, as formulated in the north, including: (a) the emancipation of the slaves; (b) the arming of the African slaves and freedmen; (c) the enfranchisement of the African—American people; (d) the abolition of Jim Crow and social inequality; and (e) the redistribution of the land in the South. These were the national liberation demands of the African-American people at the - time.
General Fremont issued a statement on August 1, 1863 freeing slaves under his jurisdiction and General Butler did a similar one. Under mass and congressional-pressure, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1863. Though Lincoln was ambiguous concerning the freedpeople and lacked a concise plan for Reconstruction, he did have a outline for making confiscated confederate land available to African— American farmers.

An official agency called the direct tax commissioners of South Carolina, acting in the government's behalf, had bought a great deal of land that had been seized to satisfy war tax debts. On September 16, 1863, the president instructed the commissioners to dispose of 60,000 acres of this land. They were to sell the property at a public sale, in lots not larger than 320 acres, except for certain portions to be retained for military, educational and charitable purposes.

Lincoln specified that certain plantations named in the order be reserved for sale to "heads of families of the African race". He directed that sales be made in twenty—acre lots (not the legendary forty) at the cost of $1.25 an acre. Although this provision was separate from the public—sale arrangement, land was not offered free to former slaves, nor was the price necessary below the going rate for similar property. This provision, significantly, was tucked into the rider on the order that reserved land for charitable and other purposes.

Lincoln's land order imposed its own difficulties from the start. When General Saxton and his officers went about carrying out the provision for freedmen, they faced the immediate problem of insufficient acreage. The plantations designated for sale to African Americans comprised only sixteen thousand of the total sixty thousand acres to be sold. Saxton and his friends turned to Washington for an answer. They persuaded Secretary Chase to increase the number of acres for freedmen; this Chase went beyond Lincoln's instructions and started things moving on a collision course. Chase's order opened up all government—owned lands for sale at $1.25 an acre, excluding lands not reserved for military and educational purposes. Under the terms of preemption, the prospective buyer was to pay two-fifths of the cost initially and the balance on receipt of the deeds. Sales were open to "any loyal person" twenty—one years of age or older who had resided in union territory for six months or who was a resident of union land at the time that sales instructions were issued. Under these regulations the loyal could pre-empt twenty or forty-acre tracts. A further arrangement for sailors and soldiers allowed twenty acres to single men and forty to married heads of households. The legend of forty acres and a mule grew out of these last provisions, not from Lincoln’s original order.

The land sales instantly attracted former slaves in Georgia and South Carolina -sometimes while cannons were roaring in the distance, blacks eagerly sought to exercise preemption (or squatter's rights, as the situation became in some cases) in the rush for land. With encouragement and assistance from the military, many remained to work and keep plantations that their masters had abandoned when the union forces approached. Others turned up, ragged and bewildered, behind the machine of liberation, pouring into

union camps, wandering through the countryside in the shock of sudden change or traveling from place to place in nomadic bands.

Congress established the Freedmen's Bureau on a temporary basis under the war department in 1863 to provide relief to the freedmen. During this period, African-Americans formed a mass protest organization, the National Equal Rights League in 1864. A main priority of the NERL was securing the right to vote for African-Americans (freedmen) John Mercer Langston was president of the organization and Fred Douglas was a guiding force.

While Congress was debating the land question, voting suffrage and citizenship for the freedmen, General William T. Sherman with his 60,000-man army was marching from Atlanta in 1864 to the sea. Thousands of African-Americans left the plantations to follow the union army. Sherman not being able to persuade the Africans to dis-band was perplexed with the problem of what to do with them. On January 12, 1865 at the urging of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who had joined him in Savannah, Sherman gathered twenty leaders of the city's black community. Mostly Baptist and Methodist ministers, the majority had been born in slavery, although several had acquired their freedom before the civil war. The conversation revealed that the African-American leaders had a clear idea of freedom and what African-Americans wanted. They asked that the plantations be re-distributed (confiscated and given to the freedmen in 40-acre lots). Four days later, January 16, 1865, Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15, setting aside the Sea Islands and a portion of the low country rice coast south of Charleston, extending thirty miles in land, for the exclusive settlement of blacks. Each family would receive forty acres of land and Sherman later provided that the army could assist them with the loan of mules. Here, perhaps lies the origin of the phrase "forty acres and a mule" that would soon echo throughout the South.

In a short time 40,000 freedmen settled on 400,000 acres of land and proceeded to work it as their own. Each freedmen was granted possessory title over forty acres of land for the duration of the war, with the understanding that the land would be given them permanently by Congress.

Congress and the land question:

Congress reigned on re-distribution of the confiscated land to African-Americans. Instead Congress passed a bill March 1865, creating the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen's Bureau) under the supervision of the War Department. The main purpose of the Bureau, which was set up in each Southern state under the direction of a commissioner, was to manage the abandoned lands, supervise the labor relations of the freedmen with their employers, and extend temporary relief to refugees and former slaves. The Bill made it clear that redistribution of the land in the form of the grants to freedmen was not contemplated. Instead, the commissioners of the Bureau were authorized to assign to each freedmen and "loyal white refugee" not more than forty acres of land from the abandoned and confiscated plantations. The land was to be leased for a term of three years at an annual rent of six percent of its value in 1860, when land prices were at their peak.


The assassination of Abraham Lincoln:

Lincoln was assassinated April 14, 1865. Though Lincoln did not have a concise Reconstruction program and represented the center/left forces, Andrew Johnson represented the conservative right of the Republican Party and attempted to bring in a counterrevolution to pardon the ex-confederates.

In a mid-night session of the Thirty-eight Congress, March 3, 1865, the House and Senate agreed with the report of their second conference committee on the Freedmen's Bureau Bill that from the abandoned and confiscated land of the South 40 acres should be assigned to "every male citizen whether refugee or freedman" at rental for three years and then for purchase from the United States with "such title as it could convey".

The counter-revolution of Andrew Johnson:

One of the first acts of Andrew Johnson, tool of the slave- holders, was to declare an amnesty for the rebels (ex- confederates on May 29, 1865. He named former rebels provisional governors in the southern states. These governors gave amnesty to virtually every one of the confederate rebels. Over a period of several months he pardoned 14,000 active participants in the South's rebellion. He did all he could to save Jefferson Davis, the president of the confederacy, who was responsible for the premeditated murder of 50,000 soldiers and officers of the U.S. Army who had been taken prisoners of war. Between May 29 and July 13 1865, the president issued seven Reconstruction proclamations to the rebel states, which promptly held state conventions and elected governments. Thus seven "Johnson states" were soon added to the already existing four "Lincoln states" as reconstructed. Eight southern states evoked black codes similar to the ex slave codes dening freedmen the right to vote and serve on juries, prohibited marriage to whites and severly hindered their movement through vagrancy laws and freedmen were not allowed the right to bear arms. The ex-confederates organized terrorist extra-legal armies that waged a racist war of terror to subdue African- Americans. The sharp increase in anti-African-American terror could also be attributed to the heightened pitch of the class struggle during Reconstruction, when the issue of eliminating the system of large-scale landowning was raised. The wide scale of violence can be seen from the fact that in Georgia 150 people were killed over a ten-month period in 1866. In four months, in the same year so as to weaken its enemy, the African- American people, the Ku Klux Klan killed off African-American leaders. The main point of the anti-African-American terror amounted to keeping the principle economic demand of African- Americans the expropriation of the lands of the former slave owners and their redistribution among the freed slaves from being carried out.

Ex-confederates called themselves redeemers, that is redeemers for reestablishing white supremacy. They assumed power by any means necessary in eight Southern states evoking Black Codes. The black codes has a:

1: Grandfather clause, which stated that if a man’s grandfather had the right to vote before 1860, then he could vote, if not, he could not vote

2: African Americans could not bear arms

3: Interracial marriage was prohibited

4: African Americans could not serve on juries

5: Vagrancy laws, which stated that if an African American (male) was found loitering and did not have a slip signed by a white man, he could be imprisoned indefinitely. More than often, those arrested would be released by the state to former slave masters under the prison lease system, which could continue for the rest of the natural life of the prisoner.

In 1866 the Radical Republicans, led by Charles Sumner in the Senate, and Thaddeus Stevens in the House of Representatives were defeated, by one vote, of finding Andrew Johnson guilty of high crimes of impeachment. As a compromise, the Radical Republicans took over Reconstruction (Congressional Committee of 15) an divided the South, except Tennessee, into five military districts. Congress passed the 14th and 15th Amendments as well as the Reconstruction Act in 1867, creating Constitutional Conventions in the South where African American men were allowed to participate.

In December of 1865, African-Americans declared at a meeting in Alabama that unless they received some land, there would inevitably be bloodshed. Numerous petitions from African- Americans demanding the partitioning of lands of the former slave owners were sent to congress. Johnson withdrew part of the black federal troops who gave freedmen protection in many cases, from the south in the spring of 1866.


Johnson had done his utmost for the southern cotton planters. He had cooked up the reactionary state governments that had bought this amazing delegation of ex-rebel officers and representatives to the doors of Congress. But there his power ended; for the question of seating the new delegates rested entirely within the jurisdiction of Congress itself.

Meanwhile, in 1865, the freed slaves, alarmed by the growth of reaction in the south, developed a powerful political movement in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana and elsewhere against the black codes and the newly "reconstructed" state governments. They held people's conventions all over the South protesting the dangerous situation. This was the first general political movement African-Americans had ever conducted in the South and it touched of f the great struggle against the dangerous grab for power by the resurgent cotton planters.



The Battles for Land:

The land struggle was aimed at bringing about bourgeois- democratic transformations in the southern states. This movement which was called Reconstruction, was aimed at re solving complex soc-economic and political problems which had not been resolved during the war. The years 1865-1866- were crucial. This was the point at which the bourgeoise could have taken a decisive step in the direction of a revolutionary solution of the land problem. One African- American leader, Francis Cardozo, a member of the Constitutional Convention of South Carolina, said: "We will never have true freedom until we abolish the system of agriculture which existed in the Southern States... What is the main cause of the prosperity of the North? It is because every man has his own farm and is free and independent.

Even at the outset of Reconstruction there were instances of blacks taking lands from planters by force. As an example, in the spring of 1867 not far from Richmond, Virginia, 500 armed African-Americans refused to pay rent to the planter they were working for, saying the land they were tilling ought to belong to them. The uprising was put down by force. In the fall of 1866, several blacks were killed near Memphis, Tennessee, while attempting to seize lands that belonged to planters. Federal troops were employed to head off all attempts by emancipated slaves to resolve the agrarian problem by simply taking over the planters’ lands.

The experiment done with African-Americans in the local department (the offshore islands-) had been a complete success. Immediately after the war, the planters, counting on federal troops to help them, made an attempt to get back these lands. The blacks put up armed resistance. To avoid bloodshed, the army withdrew from the area. Forceful and well-organized action by the former slaves defending their rights to own the land gave positive results. At Davis Bend in Mississippi the enormous plantations of Jefferson Davis's family were taken over and administered by the slaves, resulting in enormous profits for them.


During the war confiscated property was sometimes sold for unpaid taxes or turned over to the government. The Freedmen's Bureau acquired 800,000 acres of land through confiscation. Blacks were allowed to rent land from the bureau with the result that in the first year, African-Americans financed the entire cost of the bureau, totaling some 4,000 African Americans succeeded in becoming property owners.

Most African-Americans got no land, and for those who did, the tide turned as early as the end of 1865 and they began to lose it. The federal government under Andrew Johnson sought to pardon the owners and return to them land on the South Carolina coast settled by 40,000 African-Americans. The return of property extended to Freedmen's Bureau land, so that by 1868 the bureau had only 139,000 of its original 800,000 acres left. Ex-slaves at the beginning of Radical Reconstruction expropriated the Davis family land. The return of lands continued under radical rule.

In South Carolina, African-Americans also pushed for using state funds to buy land and then provided reasonable terms for its purchase by the landless. A land commission was established for this purpose and it parceled out 100,000 acres to 4,000 black families. Similar proposals were made in other states, but in almost all cases were defeated. Tied to the struggle for land was the struggle over the conditions of labor on the land. Right after the civil war, African-Americans generally wanted to rent land in preference to working for wages. They feared that wage labor would mean working in gangs with white overseers as in the days of slavery. Since most landowners had little cash for paying wages, they generally preferred a rental-type agreement also. The argument that the landowners owed ex—slaves back pay was raised by an African-American representative from Dallas County, Alabama (where Selma is located). He proposed that former slave- owners be required to pay ex-slaves at least $10 a month for every month after the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 to May 20, 1865. Such an ordinance was adopted 53 to 31.

At Christmas 1867, in Mississippi, there had been widespread rumor of an African-American insurrection, due to the idea that land was going to be distributed among them. Humphreys, then Governor issued a proclamation reciting the apprehensions of combinations or conspiracies formed among the blacks to seize the lands, unless Congress should arrange to plan a distribution by January 1.

The capitalist class supported the breaking up of the plantations into small farms based on wage labor but confiscation into 40 acres for freedmen meant moving to a form of socialism.
Radical Reconstruction; the Congressional Committee of 15:
Responding to the ex-confederate counter-revolution, Radical Republicans responded by censoring Andrew Johnson, bringing him up on impeachment charges and counter passing a congressional plan for Reconstruction But the clearest of all the radicals of this period were the African-American leaders, Douglas, Langston, Purvis, Garnett, Martin, Wier and others. For years they had been demanding emancipation, the franchise, full social quality and land for the slaves - which was at the heart of the program necessary to complete the bourgeois democratic revolution. African Americans supported these demands at African-American People's Conventions. The North Carolina African-American People's Convention in Raleigh in September 1865 approved the 13th amendment. The South Carolina Convention in Charleston in November 1865, demanded the repeal of the Black Codes, the right to serve on juries and testify in court, the right to vote, the right to the land in the Sea Islands, the right to bear arms, full civil liberties and free schools.

In setting up out of hand a whole group of new governments in the secession states, president Johnson's coup d'etat created a real problem for the northern bourgeoisie and its radical republican representatives in Congress. They were confronted with the immediate perspective of seeing the planters again in full control of the South of a vastly strengthened democratic party of a resumption of the pre-war struggle for power between the planters and the industrialists; with the threat that the planters might again be able to take control of the Federal Government. If Johnson's counter-revolutionary plan went through, there was the gravest danger that the land-won fruits of the revolution would be partly or wholly lost.

With his sharp realization of the true bourgeois class interests, Stevens proceeded promptly to forestall Johnson. On December 2, three days before Congress convened, the republican caucus met and under Stevens prodding adopted a re construction program. This had four phases; (a) to claim the whole question of Reconstruction as the exclusive business of Congress, (b) to regard the steps taken by the president as only provisional, (c) to have each House postpone consideration of the admission of members from Southern states, and (d) to elect a joint committee of 15 by the Senate and House (six senators and nine representatives) to inquire into the condition of the former confederate states.

At the opening of Congress in December 1865, the republicans gave official sanction to African-American emancipation by endorsing the 13th Amendment, which was duly ratified by the states in the North and West on December 18, 1865. Thenceforth ratification of the 13th Amendment became a condition for the re-admission of the rebel states into the union, in June of 1866, Congress passed the 14th Amendment and the life of the Freedmen's Bureau was extended. The South was divided into four military districts and the Federal Army assigned to assure the institution of the constitutional conventions. In the summer of 1867, elections to the constitutional conventions were held.



In March 1867, Thaddeus Stevens proposed the Homestead Bill in the House. Stevens stated in short, that 70,000 people in the South - the big planters - owned 394 million acres of land, besides the 71 million acres owned in farms of less than 200 acres. He would permit the small landowners to hold their farms of less than 200 acres undisturbed, but the lands of the big planters should be taken over by the government. The approximately one million families of the African ex-slaves would be given farms of 40 acres and $50 each and the balance of the confiscated land would be sold off at the rate of $10 per acre. The funds thus raised should be used to pay off the national debt, which had been enormously by swollen by the war. Stevens hoped in this manner to turn about two billion dollars into the national treasury.

Stevens could not get the support of the Joint Congressional Committee of 15 for his plan and the whole project died. The confiscation of the land and its distribution in 40 acre lots was too much for the capitalist class to stomach.

Black regiments in the U.S. Army offered considerable help to African Americans in their struggle for land. In October 1865, about 85,000 black soldiers, most of whom were located in southern states, were serving in the federal armed forces. Black soldiers quartered in Texas called for former slaves to adamantly demand the confiscation and partitioning of plantations. The commander of a black regiment at Jackson, Mississippi, declared that blacks ought to uphold their right to land "to the click of the pistol, and at the point of the bayonet". Since black regiments were given considerable aid to former slaves in the struggle for their rights, planters were adamant in demanding that black troops be withdrawn from southern states.

Forms of organization of the African—American people:

African-Americans decided to disband the National Equal Rights League because it paralleled the union leagues (Loyal League of the Republican Party). This proved to be a historical mistake when the Republican Party betrayed the African American people in 1877. They had no independent organization. The main forms of organization in this period was:
a. Union Leagues

b. African American “Colored” People's Conventions

c. Black Militias

Union leagues played an especially great role in the struggle by African-Americans for their economic and political rights. Union leagues, which had emerged back during the civil war united black and white opponents of the confederacy. The great majority of their members were African-American. There were an estimated 500.000 members in the league in the southern states. Under the leagues, militarized African-American organizations were formed which protected the population from armed attacks by racists. The leagues turned into genuine "storm centers" of the revolution during Reconstruction. After the formation of the Reconstruction governments, the black militia was recognized as the official militia in a number of states.



Progress during Radical Reconstruction:

The Federal arm assumed all power in the southern states. Over a million African-Americans were given the right to vote. In the ten southern states 700,000 Africans-Americans surmounted various obstacles and registered as voters. Some 200,000 white

Southerners who had been involved in the rebellion lost their right to vote. All this created the necessary conditions for the Radical Republicans to win the elections and for the constitutional conventions to be held. Bourgeois/democratic constitutions were ratified at these conventions that proclaimed the Reconstruction of the entire socio-economic and political system of the south on bourgeois principles. During Reconstruction, for the first time, 14 African-Americans were elected to the House of Representatives and two to the Senate.

African-Americans made especially great progress in public education. The number of black school pupils was about 500 in 1860. By the end of the Reconstruction period they numbered over 500,000. It must be emphasized that in many states the Reconstruction governments passed laws on the integrated education of black and white children. During this period 1863-1875 some 160 black colleges were established through land grants from the Freedmen's Bureau.



Planter (racist) restoration and lessons for the present:

The year 1870 marked the beginning of a period of reaction in the south. Playing chiefly on racial prejudices, the plantation owners were able to split the united front of Republicans in the Southern states. This was the beginning of the end of Radical Reconstruction. Ex-confederates posed as liberals, organized their racist designs secretly and, at times, even tended to be friends of the African American people. Operating through the Democratic Party; their victory in the elections of 1874 in the Northern states led to a sharp activation of the terrorist elements of the Democratic Party in the South. The Ku Klux Klan killed many African-American leaders in the South in this period; especially those who had been vocal of demanding land re­distribution.

Reconstruction concluded with virtually the direct betrayal of African Americans by the North's bourgeoisie (capitalists class). The 1876 presidential election gave a majority to neither the Republican candidate Hayes nor the Democrat Tilden. After secret negotiations between leaders of the two parties, the Republicans were recognized winners and sat their man in the presidency. As a sign of gratitude, the new Republican government agreed to withdraw Federal troops from the final three states where the Republicans still maintained power. The troops were withdrawn, and in April 1877 the planters seized power in these states.

600,000 African Americans were killed from Reconstruction to the 1900s.



General Texts:

  1. William Z. Foster. The Negro People in American History [ New York:
    International Publishers. 1973)

  2. August Meier and Elliott Rudwick. From Plantation to Ghetto [ New York: Hill
    and Wang. 1976]


General Reconstruction Texts:

  1. Peter Camejo, Racism. Revolution. Reaction, 1861-1877 [New York: Monad
    Press. 1976)

  2. James S. Allen. Reconstruction, The Battle for Democracy. 1865-1876 [New
    York: International Publishers, 1937)

  3. W.E.B. DuBois. Black Reconstruction in America. 1860-1880 [New York:
    Russell and Russell, 1962]

  4. Eric Foner. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877

Other Related Materials

1. Vernon Lane Wharton. The Negro in Mississippi, 1865-1890 [ New York:


Harper Torchbooks, 1947]

  1. Joel Williamson, After Slavery: The Negro in South Carolina During
    Reconstruction. 1861-1877
    [Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
    1965]


  2. Bell Irvin Wiley, Southern Negroes, 1861-1865 [ New Haven: Yale University
    Press, 1938]




  1. John B. Boles, Black Southerners, 1619-1869 [ Kentucky: The University of
    Kentucky, 1984]

  2. Otis A. Singletary, Negro Militia and Reconstruction [New York: McGraw-Hill
    Book Company, Inc., 1963]

  3. Keneth M. Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction: 1865-1877 [New York: Vintage
    Books, 1965]

  4. James M. McPherson, The Negro's Civil War [New York: Vintage Books. 1965]

  5. Staughton Lynd, (ed.) Reconstruction [ New York: Harper & Row Publishers.
    1967]

  6. Edward Peeks, The Long Struggle for Black Power [ New York: Charles
    Scribner's Sons, 1971]




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