Reconstruction and African Americans

The concerns of Blacks within Vicksburg with the ascent of President Johnson to the White House were realized when President Johnson appointed Mississippi Supreme Court Judge William Sharkey as Provisional Governor. Governor Sharkey, despite being a staunch Unionist before and during the war, did not allow Black citizens to participate in a new state constitutional convention called forth in August of 1865. The new Mississippi state constitution acknowledged the abolition of slavery but did not give any civil rights protections to African Americans. By November of 1865, a state-wide election is organized and the white voters of Mississippi elected many former Confederates into state and local offices. With a solid control over both Mississippi state and local governments and the promises of President Johnson to stay out of the state’s affairs, in January of 1866 the state legislature began initiating the Black Code of Mississippi, which relegated African Americans to a second-class citizens and required all former slaves to sign an annual labor contract to work on the plantations. To prevent Blacks from voting a system of poll taxes were initiated to prevent Blacks from political participation.

With the threat to restore the Antebellum order within Vicksburg African Americans began voicing their opposition to the post-war order. With the help of idealistic whites based in the South, they lobbied officials within Congress to stand against both President Johnson and the Southern white political leadership.

 

In 1866, reports from the Southern states on former Confederates returning to power pushed the Republicans within Congress to take the lead on Reconstruction. Congressional Reconstruction focused on dividing the former Confederate States into Military Districts under the orders to prepare the states for readmission to the Union based on the following criteria; civil rights for all citizens, universal suffrage for male citizens, and the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. With the Southern White government kicked out of power, Vicksburg’s Black community looked to the future to build a new society with their inclusion in the political process.

However, despite the military government pushing for ratifying a state constitution that included African Americans within the political system, white Democrats and other Conservatives resented the push of the many military commanders to create a new society, but with the backing of the Republican majority in Congress and the new Republican President Grant the push back was not a success. By 1870, the city Vicksburg and Warren County became a Republican stronghold due to the dedicated and sizeable African American population within the city. Not only did this population embrace their voice in the political process, they also sought to better their communities. New Black Churches provided not only a spiritual center for the community but also served to rally the African American population to support political causes to the community. Freedman Bureau schools provided education for not only the children but also teaching literacy to adult formerly enslaved individuals.

Last updated: January 11, 2018

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