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Transition from Slavery – A Study of Reconstruction

After the American Civil War and the end of slavery, many freed blacks had to depend on whites for land. Although their work had produced much of the value of southern lands, opponents of land redistribution kept most from getting title to any of the lands on which they labored, and many faced barriers when they sought to move and to acquire new land. This led to debt and dependence on whites. Many freed blacks had to rent land or work for wages on white-owned plantations; sharecropping was common in the South. Because there were approximated four million Americans enslaved in the United States who were freed at the end of the Civil War, no single story can represent the entire group of freed slaves. As educators, our job is to make sure that we present information on all social classes from multiple points of view for our students. Many stories have been passed on through diaries, letters, records or interviews. The stories, contributions, and experiences of freed slaves are what this unit will highlight. The format of these stories varies: some stories are written as autobiographies, poems, songs, or interviews or even government records.

According to the Library of Congress webpage, only twenty-six audio-recorded interviews of ex-slaves have been found. It is important that students learn from those who were slaves to understand slavery but also to understand life after slavery and how each person had a different experience and different story to tell. Oppressive times continued in America and many continued to struggle against inequality and discrimination ( Learning and reading first hand accounts will allow students to gain a better understanding of the experiences of former slaves.

The role of Reconstruction and the role of the government as it relates to those freed men and women will also be discussed. The lesson plans for this unit requires the use of many primary source documents and narratives. Many resources are online and directly available for students to use.

Sandy O’Keefe
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