After the Civil War, education changed as well. Between 1865 and 1895, state laws were passed requiring 12 to 16 weeks of school attendance by kids 8 to 14. By 1900, more than half a million students attended high school.
In 1896, the Supreme Court decided in the case Plessy v. Ferguson that separate but equal facilities for blacks and whites were legal. This led to a wave of black and white schools, restaurants, bathrooms, theaters, and many other things. This separation of the races is called segregation.
As a result, governments all over the country passed laws to keep the races separate. These were called “Jim Crow” Laws, and today they are very illegal. Black Americans could be punished severely for not complying with Jim Crow Laws.
One of the most damaging of the Jim Crow Laws was the poll tax, which forced people to pay a heavy fee in order to vote. White people were excused from paying the tax by what is called a “Grandfather Clause” which said if your grandfather could legally vote, you didn’t have to pay the tax. At this time, the grandfathers of most Southern African Americans had been what?
In response to discrimination, two African American leaders arose. Booker T. Washington said that to end discrimination, blacks should work hard, be patient, and over time, racism would go away. He said the more blacks complained about racism, the more racist whites became.
WEB Dubois thought Washington was wrong. He wanted an immediate end to racism, and advocated education for blacks. He founded the Niagara Movement to help African Americans go to college.
Debt peonage was a form of legalized slavery, in which people were forced to labor for free in order to work off a debt. One of the most common forms of debt peonage was sharecropping, in which people raised crops on a landlord’s farm, and gave him a share of the crops for rent. At the end of the year, though, the people generally owed more money than the value of the crops, and they were required by law to stay there year after year.
Despite all this turmoil, however, this was a time of more free time, called “leisure time” for most Americans. The rise of the eight hour workday and the 40 hour work week, gave Americans time for biking, tennis, baseball, and even amusement parks.
The post-Civil War Period was a time of unfairness and discrimination. But it was also a time of progress and advancement. As historians, we must be careful to look at any one period and characterize it as either bad or good, because it all depends on what specific event you’re looking at, and what your perspective is.