01.05 a New South: Freedom

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01.05 A New South: Freedom

What Did Freedom Mean?

In the years following the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, many formerly enslaved people embraced freedom. They left plantations to find spouses and children lost to them years earlier. Some walked off just to test that freedom was real, that they had the right to come and go as they pleased.

Those who left during or after the war had few places to go. While most rejoiced in their new rights, they also had immediate needs of food, clothing, and shelter for themselves and family.

Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, later called the Freedmen's Bureau to assist formerly enslaved people. Many people, though glad for freedom, did not wish to leave the area where they grew up and had family. Former slave owners also needed workers for their fields.

The Freedmen's Bureau helped in a variety of ways, from protecting travelers and legalizing marriages to negotiating work agreements with former slave owners.

How Did the Freedmen Enter Politics?

Three amendments to the Constitution enabled many African Americans to vote and serve in office in the South during the years of Radical Reconstruction. First, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. The 14th Amendment made it clear that African Americans were citizens and deserved the same protections of the law as anyone else. White Southerners found ways around these amendments to prevent African Americans from using the rights of citizenship, such as voting. In response, Congress passed the 15th Amendment, which the states ratified. It said that no state could deny a citizen's suffrage based on the person's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

With the aid of these changes and Freedmen's Bureau agents, former slaves began voting and selecting African American representatives for office. They were Republicans, supporters of the party that wanted to see protection for African American rights. In several...