Society in the South after Reconstruction
Society in the South after Reconstruction
While blacks gained freedom in the South, they hardly gained equality. Despite the Radical Republicans’ efforts at Reconstruction, many blacks in the South struggled with poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment. As Reconstruction waned, the condition of freedmen worsened. The Freedmen’s Bureau closed, voting restrictions such as poll taxes and literacy tests proliferated, and racist violence spread. Discrimination in the South further intensified with the passage of Jim Crow laws in the 1880s. Jim Crow laws segregated many public accommodations such as trains, steamboats, streetcars, and schools, and restricted or forbade black access to other facilities, like theaters and restaurants. The Supreme Court upheld such segregation in its Plessy v. Ferguson decision (1896), which declared all “separate but equal” facilities to be constitutional. This decision cleared the way for decades of demoralizing discrimination against blacks.
Destitute and unemployed, many blacks moved to cities in search of work. As a result of this migration, the population of urban blacks in the South increased by 75 percent in the late 1800s. Other freedmen tried to establish farms of their own, but, lacking resources and equipment, were forced to rent out land as tenant farmers under the sharecropping system. By the end of the 1860s, the sharecropping system had replaced slave-filled plantations as the driving force behind the Southern economy. Under this system, freedmen and poor whites rented out plots of land from plantation owners. In exchange for use of the land, shelter, and farming equipment, these laborers, known as sharecroppers, would give the landowner up to one half of their crop yield. The system ensured that the sharecropper could never raise enough money to gain real financial independence.
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