Post-war southern attitudes toward black freedmen

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Thomas, Col. Samuel, Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands in 39 Cong., 1 Sess., Senate Exec. Doc. 2. 1865. Ed. Stephen Mintz. “Excerpts from Slave Narratives – Chapter 42.” University of Houston. 14 July 2009 <>.

Background Information
At the end of the Civil War, the victorious Union had to determine how to reintegrate Southern states, deliver justice to former Confederates, and prepare ex-slaves for a life of freedom amidst their old masters. During this period of Reconstruction, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly known as the “Freedmen’s Bureau”) attempted to help the freed slaves and poor whites survive in a land destroyed by war with a plantation-based economy turned on its head. Assistant Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, Colonel Samuel Thomas reported to Congress on the condition of freed blacks in Mississippi 1865. An excerpt from his testimony is below.

Document Text
Wherever I go -- the street, the shop, the house, or the steamboat -- I hear the people talk in such a way as to indicate that they are yet unable to conceive of the Negro as possessing any rights at all. Men who are honorable in their dealings with their white neighbors will cheat a Negro without feeling a single twinge of their honor. To kill a Negro they do not deem murder; to debauch a Negro woman they do not think fornication; to take the property away from a Negro they do not consider robbery. The people boast that when they get freedmen affairs in their own hands, to use their own classic expression, "the niggers will catch hell."

The reason of all this is simple and [clear]. The whites [consider] the blacks their property by natural right, and however much they may admit that the individual relations of masters and slaves have been destroyed by the war and the President's emancipation proclamation, they still have an ingrained feeling that the blacks at large belong to the whites at large, and whenever opportunity serves they treat the colored people just as their profit, caprice or passion may dictate.


  1. Colonel Thomas notes, “I hear people talk in such a way as to indicate that they are yet unable to conceive of the Negro as possessing any rights at all.” Do you anticipate that these Southern whites could eventually accept African Americans as people with rights? Why or why not?

  2. In the Southern system of slavery, blacks were deemed property. Considering that Colonel Thomas’s report comes within a year of the Civil War’s end, explain how ideas of slavery contributed to the post-war belief that killing an African American is not murder.

  3. During slavery, most white Southerners did not own slaves and a very small percentage owned large plantations. Yet Colonel Thomas writes, “they still have an ingrained feeling that the blacks at large belong to the whites at large.” Why do you think whites who never owned slaves still felt an ownership over blacks?

  4. Predict what will happen to the Southern economy during Reconstruction. In your answer, explain white attitudes towards blacks and how both whites and blacks will work and live after the Civil War.


Reconstruction DBQ

This assignment is called a Document-Based Question, or a DBQ, because it asks you to use multiple documents to write an argument in response to this prompt:

Were freed slaves free? In your answer, define what makes someone free.

Now that you have seen a video on Reconstruction and analyzed “POST-WAR SOUTHERN ATTITUDES TOWARD BLACK FREEDMEN,” follow the steps below to write your DBQ essay.

  1. Carefully examine Documents 2-8. Select 4 of the documents and complete the Document Analysis worksheet.

  2. In the space below the question, rephrase the question and turn it into a statement of your opinion. For example, “After the Civil War, former slaves no longer had masters, but were certainly not free.”

Were freed slaves free?

  1. Now, complete the Essay Development Outline on the back of this sheet to give 3 reasons for your opinion and outline evidence from the documents to support your 3 reasons You must use and refer to at least 4 of the documents.

  1. Finally, write a 5-paragraph essay that responds to the question with a thesis statement and uses at least 4 clear pieces of evidence from the documents to support your thesis. Follow the attached rubric to ensure that you write a strong essay and receive a high grade. Do NOT write your essay in the space below, but on separate sheets of paper.

The essay and your Document Analysis sheets are due Friday for 5th period and Thursday for 1st period.


nder the sharecropping system, which emerged as the dominant labor system in the rural South, black families rented individual plots of land. The system placed a premium on utilizing the labor of all members of the family.


“The Constitution of the United States.” Amendments 13, 14, and 15.

Amendment XIII

Section 1.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction...

Amendment XIV

Section 1.

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...

Amendment XV

Section 1.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude...


frican-Americans found a wider variety of employment opportunities in cities than in rural areas.

Many black women worked as domestic servants.


inslow Homer's cartoon criticizing the post-war attitudes of many Southern whites toward freed people depicts a leisured white planter yelling at his former slave, "My boy, we've toiled and taken care of you long enough - now, you've got to work!"


Maps of the Barrow Plantation, Scribner's Monthly, April 1881


wo maps illustrate the effects of emancipation on plantation life in the South. In 1860, slaves lived in communal quarters near the owner's house, subject to frequent contact and strict control.

Twenty years later, former slaves working as sharecroppers lived away from "The House" on separate plots of land and had their own church and school.

However, the "Gin house," where sharecroppers had their cotton cleaned, remained in the same location, central to the economic life of the plantation.


The Colored Member Admitted to His Seat in the Senate

An Interesting Scene When the Oath was Administered


Special Dispatch to The New York Times



Debate in the House on the Indian Question

General Sheridan Harshly Criticized

ashington, Feb. 25, 1870 -- Mr. Revels, the colored Senator from Mississippi, was sworn in and admitted to his seat this afternoon at 4:40 o'clock. There was not an inch of standing or sitting room in the galleries, so densely were they packed; and to say that the interest was intense gives but a faint idea of the feeling which prevailed throughout the entire proceeding. Mr. Vickers, of Maryland, opened the debate to-day, arguing against the admission, on the ground that Revels had not been a citizen for nine years [since he had been a slave until 1865], and therefore was not eligible...


“In South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana, the proportion of Negroes was so large, their leaders of sufficient power, and the Federal control so effective that for the years l868-l874 the will of black labor was powerful; and so far as it was intelligently led, and had definite goals, it took [noticeable] steps toward public education, confiscation of large incomes, [improvement] of labor conditions, universal suffrage, and in some cases distribution of land to the peasant.”

W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in American 1860-1880. New York: Atheneum, 1935.

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