American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning

Grassroots Politics and Reconstruction

Published December 11, 2011

Gregory Downs, City College of New York, CUNY
“Ballots and Blood: The Grassroots Struggle for the Future of Reconstruction”
The Graduate Center, CUNY
July 19, 2010

The Reconstruction era was marked by both triumph and defeat as the newly emancipated slaves and their allies attempted to establish full political and economic freedoms in the face of violent opposition. While planters were initially successful in limiting the rights that accompanied emancipation, by the late 1860s freedpeople responded by asserting their claims to land, voting, and equal access. In the 1870s, former Confederates mobilized their own local political movements, using violent intimidation to quell gains in black voting and economic advancement.

In Part 1 of this podcast, Downs explores the main themes of Reconstruction through the story of Henry Adams, a remarkable former slave, Union army veteran, and successful businessman who organized freedpeople in the South to emigrate to Kansas. In Part 2, beginning at 42:28, he describes the twists and turns in the Reconstruction struggle over what rights and protections would come with emancipation. He also discusses two primary documents (see below).

Wood engraving, Harper’s Weekly, 26 September 1874

Southern Democrats Declare “a Dead Radical Is Very Harmless” document

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