With the end of the Civil War in 1865 African-Americans still had fewer rights than white people. Even with the passing of laws such as the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifthtenth amendments, which were aimed at giving them equal protection under law, blacks were still discriminated against. Although under law African-Americans had equal rights they were still considered economically inferior to the whites and suffered from this position below them.
It was nearly impossible for a black farmer to be able to own and farm his own land because whites were given first priority. Union general Sherman promised the newly freed slaves forty acres and a mule to be able to farm by themselves. This land was taken away in August 1865 when President Johnson ordered the eviction of all former slaves and the land be given back to former slave holders(Danzer et all). To make up for this loss of land the President passed the Southern Homestead Act with set aside 44 million acres of land to be used by the former slaves. The problem was that this land was mainly swampy and it was unsuitable for farming. Also the former slaves did not have the resources such as seed, plows, tools, and horse to farm(Danzer et all).
Since blacks did not have the resources and capital they had to resort to sharecropping and tenant farming to be able to grow crops. Sharecropping was a system in which white land owners would give a few acres of land, wages, and housing to a black family in exchange for the blacks to grow and harvest the crops and give the majority of the crops to the land owners. This system was ineffective in African-Americans obtaining their own land because they did not own the land and they had to give most of the crops to the owner(Foner). Also the sharecropper would have to sign a contract in which the farmer would work until the paid off the debt for the land, house, and farming equipment. This was much like indentured servitude and this was supposed to be ended with the Civil War and the fourteenth amendment. Tenant farming was like sharecropping except that the farmer would rent the land and pay back the rent by giving a large percentage to the land lord(Danzer et all). Usually the farmer was never able to grow enough crops to pay back his entire debt and this caused a never ending cycle much like slavery.
African-American business men were discriminated against by many different people and organizations and this caused there low economic position. The Ku Klux Klan or KKK would frequently kill livestock belonging to black farmers. The KKK would also attack any black man that owned land or property and tried to force them to work for white land lords. Any black business man that would complain about their economic position or tried to enter any other business besides farming would be beaten and tortured by the KKK. Many southern white employers would refuse to do business or hire blacks that voted republican(Danzer et all). This kind of pressure kept African-Americans from the polls and voting for republican candidates. Whites did not want the blacks to vote for republican candidates because the republicans were creating laws that gave blacks more civil and economic rights with the Enforcement Acts. This would threaten the southerner’s way of life in which they are above the African-American former slaves. In addition black codes were enacted in many southern states to restrict the rights of black businessmen. These codes banned blacks from owning their own business, traveling without a special permit, and the ability to buy or rent land. Although these laws were later repealed their effects were still felt by many Africa-Americans. Even though that the black codes were removed many people still practiced them because they thought that it was ok since the government enacted the laws. Also the southern slave holders were used to being able to have many slaves working for them and having complete control over them(Foner).
Although over 360,000 Union soldiers died fighting to end slavery and give blacks equality in the Civil War, there was not much change in the economic system involving African-Americans. The inability for blacks to be successful in business was largely attributed to the suppression that the whites placed upon them. This discrimination lasted long into the 20th century and was not full changed until the civil rights movements of the 1950’s and the help of Martin Luther King Jr.
Danzer, Gerald A. The Americans. Evanston: McDougal Little, 1998.
Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution. Peter Smith Pub Inc, 2001.