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Capitol Men: The First Black Congressmen

Page history last edited by Mr. Hengsterman 1 year, 6 months ago


Capitol Men: Reconstruction through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen

Efforts by radical and moderate Republicans to change the balance of power between Congress and the presidency and to reorder race relations in the defeated South yielded some short-term successes.  

Reconstruction opened up political opportunities and other leadership roles to formerly enslaved persons, but it ultimately failed, due both to determined Southern resistance and the North’s waning resolve.






Splendid Failure: Postwar Reconstruction in the American South

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery, while the 14th and 15th amendments granted African Americans citizenship, equal protection under the laws, and voting rights. The women’s rights movement was both emboldened and divided over the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution.


Freedman's Bureau (1865)  Provides resources and services for freed slaves and poor whites including food, medical aid and education


13th Amendment (1865)   Abolishes slavery in the United States


14th Amendment (1868)  Establishes birthright citizenship and equal protection under the law


15th Amendment (1870)   Extends voting rights to African American males




Black Residents of Nashville to the Union Convention  [Nashville, Tenn.  January 9, 1865]


 The Fifteenth Amendment in Flesh and Blood The Symbolic Generation of Black Americans in Congress 1870 to 1887


The essential reason for the growing opposition to Reconstruction, however, was the fact that most Southern whites could not accept the idea of African Americans voting and holding office, or the egalitarian policies adopted by the new governments.  CASE STUDY: John Roy Lynch



The African-American Representatives also symbolized a new democratic order in the United States. These men demonstrated not only courage, but also relentless determination. They often braved elections marred by violence and fraud. With nuance and tact they balanced the needs of black and white constituents in their Southern districts, and they argued passionately for legislation promoting racial equality.




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