2016 Essay Contest Honorable Mention, Senior Division

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Cooper Smith, 9th Grade

Post-1865: Effects of the War

On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union forces.  That day was the day the Confederacy fell.  Minor battles still occurred, but Lee’s surrender brought the end of the Confederate States of America, and with it, the end of slavery.  African-Americans were finally, as the ancient spiritual says, “Free at last, free at last, God Almighty I’m free at last.”  The end of the Civil War marked the beginning of Reconstruction, the attempt to reunite the country and provide equality for African-Americans.

With President Lincoln, Reconstruction would have been much more successful, but he was assassinated a mere six days after the Surrender at Appomattox.  His successor, President Andrew Johnson, was quite possibly the worst president to handle the fragile task of Reconstruction.  If Johnson remained in control, Reconstruction could have been more disastrous than it actually was.  When congress took over the task of reconstruction, life was starting to look better for African-Americans.  Congress worked with groups such as the Freedmen’s Bureau to build schools and help former slaves begin their new lives.  Many blacks were even elected to various offices.  Reconstruction looked like it would be successful in repairing a crippled nation.

However, southerners objected to federal troops occupying the South.  They were furious because they felt they were being treated unfairly.  Many of them did not want blacks to have as much power as they were gaining.  After democratic authority was restored in Congress, Reconstruction ended, and life became much worse for former slaves.  White supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan held a reign of terror, and many African-Americans feared for their lives. These groups bombed schools, burned houses, and murdered both blacks and whites who challenged the idea of white supremacy.  White supremacist groups worsened relations between blacks and whites. 

Blacks still had not received the rights they were promised until the 1960’s.  Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership and eloquence helped many citizens realize how important it was to restore full rights to blacks.  Many citizens owe their freedoms to him.

Even though the 1960’s solved more of the remaining problems from Reconstruction, there are still racial tensions that have not been resolved.  Minorities in America today feel they are being mistreated and discriminated against.  Riots and protests over police brutality are commonly seen in the news, and there are many other issues over equal pay, jobs, and acceptance.  Many argue that blacks still are not equal today, even though they were promised equality over 150 years ago.  This is a major problem facing the United States today, and it must be resolved.  All Americans, regardless of race, have three unalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  If we fail to provide these rights, we fail as a nation.  As Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”