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Were Slaves Free After The Civil War?

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Were Slaves' Free After the Civil War?

When the slaves were liberated from their masters, after the fall of the South in the Civil War, what was the definition of the newfound freedom that they received? Many would say the same freedom as any American at the time was granted, but consider the lack of education and certain privileges that kept many people within the Negro community in a cycle of perpetuating poverty. In some respects the recently freed men and women were still slaves to the society due to their lack of understand of the post-war economy. One way of viewing the slave's newfound freedom is in the light that this freedom almost had an adverse reaction to what it was originally set in place to accomplish. Thus the slaves may have been physically free but had many new barriers in place to help ensure that their freedom was not the same as given to an average Caucasian male of the time. From all of this it can be determined that even after the last battle of the war had occurred and the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted slaves were still not "free people". Freed slaves won independence on their own with little assistance from those they trusted or relied upon, rather it was by a combination of factors that led to the freedom they sought. Factors such as the slaves own determination and perseverance to reach equality and other irrefutable rights of each human being.

Since the end of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery many former slaves have been interviewed concerning their personal experiences. In many of them a common theme can be observed: many slaves had no idea of the hardships that would come with freedom, and the many trials that they would encounter in the following years. Felix Haywood, a slave from San Antonio, and his father "knowed freedom was on us (them), but we didn't make Ð''em rich" (Haywood 4). Another former slave who was interviewed was Toby Jones, from Madisonville, Texas. "I don't know as I'spected nothing from freedom, but they turned us out like a bunch of stray dogs, no homes, no clothing, no nothing, not Ð''nough food to last us one meal" (Jones 7). It was not just the former slaves of the time who observed this injustice several politicians of the time also noted the less than ideal conditions of the newly freed African American community. One such politician who took notice of the plight of the freed slaves was Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, who was in office during a time when he witnessed the horrible scene unfolding before him in the South. "Now they (slaves) are the victims of daily murder. They must suffer constant persecution or be exiled" (Stevens 11). Although, to many people these injustices appeared to be blatantly obvious government officials on all levels acted indifferently towards bringing about the changes that the government originally set forth to put into practice. Many early supporters of Equal Rights, which would extend to all men, saw these officials as being very "narrow-minded".

One of the most prominent cases that prove this comes from the words of the president during this period, Andrew Jackson, who often spoke concerning his feelings toward these people:

Ð'...wherever they have been left to their own devices they have shown a constant tendency to relapse into barbarianism. In the Southern States, however Congress has undertaken to confer upon them the privilege of the ballot. Just released from slaver, it may be doubted whether as a class they know more than their ancestors how to organize and regulate civil society (Johnson 10).

This method of thinking not only took place in the upper levels of the government but also extended to local towns and cities, such as the town of Opelousas, Louisiana. This town was just one of several towns in America that adopted new Black Codes to their local statute. This code set forth eleven separate sections regulating the actions of the newly freed slaves. One section, Section eight, directly prohibited trade within the limits of the city, with anyone. "No freedman shall sell, barter, or exchange any articles of merchandise or traffic within the limits of OpelousasÐ'..." The law prohibited African American farmers from selling any of their surplus crops within the boundaries of the city, and thus limiting their chances of ever being free from debt. Laws like this were enacted to help to ensure the sense of superiority within the Caucasian population of the U.S.A. would continue, and help continue the cycle of poverty within the black race. They placed the status of the freedpeople somewhere between slavery and free, they restricted occupation, ownership of property, and access to an unbiased judicial system. These laws went so far as to allow local and state officials to impose forced labor upon "vagrants" who "loitered" or lacked employment, and the same for children who had parents who could not support them. Betrayal and hardships seemed to be a force felt throughout the states among the Negro community and they seemed to face new trials with every passing day, and with every group whom they once trusted. Yet, a sense of determination to persevere until freedom was won continued within the Negro community.

During the war many slaves placed trust in the Union army to be benevolent and offer them the mercy and kindness which inspired many that there was hope for them to survive in the north on their

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