Civil War to Civil Rights

Photo of African American man drinking from water fountain marked 'Colored.'

Though the Civil War began the movement to extend equality to African Americans, the promises of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments provide easier to accomplish in theory rather than in practice. The promising start towards racial equality soon faltered during the tensions of Reconstruction and laws were soon enacted across the country which enforced segregation of the races and the second-class status of African Americans.

Today, nearly 150 years since the end of the Civil War, people of all races, colors, creeds and beliefs continue the struggle to make America a nation where truly "all men are created equal."

Showing results 11-15 of 16

  • Picture depictsing former slaves and free blacks voting following the passage of the 15th amendment

    During Reconstruction, the Federal government pursued a program of political, social, and economic restructuring across the South-including an attempt to accord legal equality and political power to former slaves. Reconstruction became a struggle over the meaning of freedom, with former slaves, former slaveholders and Northerners adopting divergent definitions. Faced with increasing opposition by white Southerners and some Northerners, however, the government abandoned efforts for black equality in favor of sectional reconciliation between whites. Read more

  • Fort Sumter National Monument

    Robert Small's Journey to Freedom


    In Civil War Charleston, slave Robert Smalls commandeered a Confederate vessel, piloting it to freedom and embarking on a journey that ultimately led him to the halls of Congress. Read more

  • Photograph of unnamed Union African American troops

    When the Civil War began in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln's primary concern was saving the Union and preventing the fracturing of the nation. After the failure of the Peninsula Campaign in the summer of 1862, Union morale was low. The northern economy was shaky, optimism for victory had faded, and Lincoln's Cabinet feared growing Confederate strength would encourage foreign intervention. Lincoln began to see freeing the slaves, not as a constitutional dilemma or a moral choice, but as a way of Read more

  • Antietam National Battlefield

    The Emancipation Proclamation

    A recruiting poster showing a Union soldier and a banner

    Toward the end of the Civil War's second year, Abraham Lincoln made added the abolition of slavery to the restoration of the Union as the principal war aims of the North along by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves in the South and strike a blow to the Confederate economy. Read more

  • Fort Davis National Historic Site

    The First African American Graduate of West Point

    In 1877 Henry O. Flipper became the first African American to ever graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point. However, his image was soured by events four years later when he was dismissed from the Army, and for 117 years his court martial tarnished his good name. Read more

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