Reconstruction in Civil War Texas

Following the Civil War, the Texas economy was in ruins, the money was worthless, and Texans were faced with drastic changes to their basic way of life. Social reconstruction meant establishing a new relationship between whites and former slaves. Political reconstruction involved writing a new state constitution that rejected secession and slavery. Economic reconstruction needed a new labor system to replace slavery.

On June 19, 1865, Federal troops under the command of General Gordon Granger landed on Galveston Island to declare freedom for the estimated 250,000 slaves in Texas. June 19, now called Juneteenth, is celebrated by African Americans in Texas as the anniversary of their freedom.

Emancipation did little to make life easier for the freedmen. Many traveled to cities looking for work. They were left without a home or a job. Others traveled in search of lost relatives. Some remained on the plantations and worked for wages or a share of the crops they produced. The U. S. Congress created the Freedman’s Bureau to provide food, shelter, and medicine to the freedmen, and to help them find jobs or represent them in court.

The Freedman’s Bureau began operations in Texas in September 1865 led by abolitionist General Gregory. He worked to establish a free labor system to replace slavery. He pressured African Americans to remain on the plantations and to sign contracts to work for wages or for crop shares. The freedmen had little choice but to agree, since they had no land of their own and few employment opportunities. This sharecropping system kept the former slaves on the plantations and in debt to the owners.

The Freedmen Bureau opened schools, but they never received the budget necessary to educate the large black population. Whites saw black education as dangerous for the social order. Bureau courts were also criticized when agents of the Bureau defended blacks against unjust treatment. These courts did not have much success.

Source: Reconstruction in Civil War Texas
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