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The Fight for Freedom

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The Fight for Freedom

Abolitionists and supporters of women's suffrage united in a common struggle for equal rights before the Civil War. However, after black men won the right to vote, a split developed between civil rights leaders and supporters of women's rights. This historical split changed the meaning of freedom among those who were affected by the constant changes.

Freedom was viewed as a loss for the white man, because for the first time he would have to cook his own food, till his own ground and handle other types of physical labor. It was difficult for them to fathom that slaves could ever have the same rights as they did, and they felt that freedom was a birthright in which former slaves could never have. Many whites believed that blacks were not capable of running their own lives and they pitied them. Therefore, whites saw this so called freedom as a defeated effort, while the former slave saw it as a victorious, yet confusing change.

The slave saw freedom as a big question mark, asking how, what, when and where. Many slaves had been restricted all their lives and they had never experienced making their own choices. They were told what to do, how to do it, when to do it and where to do it. Freedom was celebrated by some, while others, less trusting, approached their new status with caution. Despite the uncertainties blacks began to demonstrate their freedom by acquiring everything that previously was not allowed. Some slaves realized that there was more to being free than just leaving the plantations. Many experienced the confusion because of the various adjustments that were being made. Equality was the central focus not only for blacks, but for women. Women felt betrayed because they were excluded from the Fifteenth Amendment that gave black men the right to vote. They deemed it necessary to defy gender laws and along with the blacks the Women's Suffrage Movement fought to achieve political and civil rights.

The Reconstruction Era began the fight to accommodate newly emancipated blacks. This adjustment to change the social order began under the leadership of President Lincoln. The Reconstruction Era lasted from 1866 to 1877 and its objective was to reorganize the southern states to define the means by which whites and blacks could live together in a culture without slavery. Former slaves tried to establish livelihoods for themselves by finding their own employment and by acquiring the land of their ex-slave owners while being protected by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitutions. The Reconstruction Era was a major milestone for blacks. However, the Reconstruction era was short lived, because shortly thereafter President Lincoln was assassinated and Andrew Johnson became president. President Johnson made little effort to continue what Lincoln had started and he did nothing to stop the government in the south from passing laws to restrict opportunities for blacks. It was said in a Kentucky newspaper that" the former slave was free, but free only to labor".

The blacks were indeed free only to labor and it was demonstrated in a scandalous opposition in the South called, "The Black Codes". The Black Codes were a series of laws that were passed by the former Confederate states to prevent blacks from gaining civic power. The South understood freedom a little differently than the North, therefore Southerners refused to allow former slaves to have the same independence as they did. Southerners continued their belief of mastery over the slaves and considered freedom for the slaves as a privilege and not a right. These laws were limited to what the blacks could or could not do such as; no meetings after sunset, every Negro had to be employed



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