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Reconstruction in Alabama: A Quick Summary

  • The end of the Civil War brought widespread hunger, poverty, and displacement to white and black Alabamians.

  • The Freedmen's Bureau was established in March 1865 to aid ex-slaves throughout the South. In Alabama, General Wager Swayne led the Bureau, which soon worked to help feed destitute whites, too.

  • Alabama came under military rule and General Wager Swayne served virtually as military governor of Alabama in 1867.

  • In 1868 Alabama voters, including black men voting for the first time, ratified a new Constitution that placed more emphasis on education and women's rights. Military rule ended in Alabama and Republicans gained control of the governor's office and the legislature. White Republican political leaders were often referred to as carpetbaggers (if from the North) or scalawags (if native Southerners).

  • From 1867 to 1874 African Americans in Alabama emerged as political leaders. Among the most famous were Benjamin Turner, Jeremiah Haralson, and James T. Rapier, all of whom served Alabama in the U.S. Congress.

  • Reconstruction brought improvements in education, especially for African Americans. Emphasis was also placed on internal improvements to roads and railroads, though there were allegations of fraud and misuse of state funds on these projects.

  • Many white Alabamians fought Reconstruction through the political process and also through the emergence of organized resistance groups. The Ku Klux Klan was the most well known. Others were the Pale Faces and the Knights of the White Camellia.

  • Alabama was re-admitted to the Union in 1868.

  • Republican Reconstruction ended in Alabama in 1874 when Democrats re-gained control of the legislature and governor's office and, in the next year, rewrote the state constitution.

    *** The website of the Alabama Department of Archives and History contains several classroom activities using Reconstruction-era primary sources from Archives collections. Go to: www.archives.alabama.gov/teacher/recon/reconst.html.