African enslavement was justified using racism whilst the concept of black inferiority began under the umbrella of 19th century subjugation. They each went hand in hand. The abolition of slavery was a culminating event of the Civil War and marked the beginning of a centuries long fight for African Americans – like myself – to establish our place within a society that was not at all designed for us to be a part of. Reconstruction was a somewhat fervent attempt at mending the damage that had been done by centuries of black oppression; and it served as a great example of how even noble attempts at establishing basic civil liberties for blacks are hard-won in the wake of such a horrendous institution.
I read an article on NYTimes.com a couple of years ago regarding Reconstruction. The author, Professor Eric Foner, made attempts at supporting the validity of Reconstruction and stressed its importance within the narrative of U.S. History. The article resonated with me because Reconstruction was not a topic that I knew very much about. My personal knowledge of African enslavement extended to the act of slavery itself, to the Civil War, to segregation, Jim Crow laws, and then to the Civil Rights Movement. I, like many others, often overlooked the Reconstruction period.
The article, entitled Why Reconstruction Matters, began by drawing a stark comparison between “access to citizenship” and how it related to Reconstruction in the general sense. It went on to pull the proverbial curtain back on the realities of Reconstruction and why it was such a contentious, and ultimately unsuccessful, period. The truth was that Reconstruction never truly addressed the core issues of racism. The fact that the biggest advocate of Reconstruction, Abraham Lincoln, was murdered before he could implement all the policies associated with it was also a detriment to the cause. Another key issue in the failure of Reconstruction was the fact that there were no measures put in place to support African American’s integration into society. Most slaves had no formal education or money. Without reparations or a solid education, the formally enslaved were forced back into yet another form of slavery: indentured servitude.
Although slavery and Reconstruction ended over 150 years ago, the fact remains that Africans endured over 400 years of brutality, abuse, and oppression that cannot be easily erased. The effects of slavery can still be felt across the country to this day. Public reactions to the killings of black teens like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown culminated in modern day Civil Rights Movements like Black Lives Matter. Demonstrations like these are entrenched in economic inequality and racism – all residual effects of African enslavement and the aftermath of Reconstruction. Our understanding of what happened is detrimental to our ability to move forward.