Students will examine the ways that people who were enslaved tried to claim their freedom after the Civil War. Maps to Key Concepts 7, 8, 9 & 10
What else should my students know?
18.A Provisions that guaranteed rights to formerly enslaved Africans, such as the 13th Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the 14th Amendment, did not protect Indigenous people from enslavement. African Americans enslaved by Indigenous people were also not clearly protected by these provisions or by the Reconstruction Treaties signed after the Civil War. The tribal status of these freedmen remains controversial today.
18.B Indigenous people were not protected from involuntary servitude in large part because they were excluded from citizenship rights in the Constitution as “Indians not taxed.” The Supreme Court upheld the exclusion of Indigenous people from 14th Amendment protection in Elk v. Wilkins (1884).
18.C Freed African Americans sought to exercise their freedom in several ways, including relocating (leaving the plantations where they had been enslaved); pursuing education (in the numerous schools established after the war); living as families; and participating in politics.
18.D Black voters became influential in Southern elections during Congressional Reconstruction. Between 1865 and 1877, black men served in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and in state capitols. More than 600 black men also served in state legislatures.
18.E The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 formally extended citizenship to all Indigenous people. Though some Indigenous people were already citizens by this time, many Indigenous people did not desire citizenship in the United States (they were already citizens of their own nations). One byproduct of the law may have been that Indigenous people, as U.S. citizens, were now protected from enslavement.
How can I teach this?
- Reading the 13th Amendment creates an opportunity to discuss the scope of emancipation. The provision for the treatment of prisoners, for example, can lead to subsequent conversations about continued enslavement, including through the convict labor system. An excerpt from Slavery by Another Name provides important details.
- Several useful online resources cover the Reconstruction Treaties, including an essay from the Oklahoma Historical Society. For information about the histories and experiences of African-Indigenous people, see the exhibit IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas, a joint effort from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Smithsonian Travelling Exhibition Service, which is available in book form online. The exhibit includes a discussion of tribal citizenship for African-Indigenous people and shares personal stories from African-Indigenous families.
- Charlotte Forten’s article “Life on the Sea Islands,” published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1864, describes her work teaching formerly enslaved students. George Mason University’s website History Matters provides an informative excerpt.
- In pursuing the freedom to live as families, many formerly enslaved people searched for family members who had been sold during slavery. The Historic New Orleans Collection has archived more than a thousand “Lost Friends” advertisements from the Southwestern Christian Advocate. Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery also offers a free, searchable, online archive of such ads.
- In December 1865, 2,500 black residents of Washington, D.C., signed a letter to Congress outlining their loyalty to the Union and contributions to the community and thereby requesting the right to vote. The letter is available on the site of The Freedmen & Southern Society Project.
- The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship, from the Library of Congress, provides a variety of sources (both images and text) to explore the activities of formerly enslaved people in the South.
- The account book from Hampton Plantation in South Carolina shows formerly enslaved people being paid for their work.
- The November 16, 1867, cover of Harper’s Weekly was a drawing by Alfred R. Waud titled “The First Vote.” It showed African American voters casting their first ballots.
- In 1878, African American representatives in the South Carolina legislature outnumbered white legislators. A photograph of the legislature is archived at the Library of Congress.
- The first African American to serve in the Senate was Hiram Revels of Mississippi. A group portrait featuring Revels, “The First Colored Senator and Representatives,” was published by Currier and Ives in 1872.
- Several online histories of the Snyder Act (the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act) offer different details and documents, including at the websites of the Library of Virginia and the National Archives.
- The Snyder Act was controversial among many Indigenous people. The Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee continue to resist the Snyder Act, saying it is a tool of assimilation and a rejection of their sovereignty.