The end of the Civil War in April 1865 and ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution meant the end of enslavement for approximately four hundred thousand black Alabamians. Freedmen embraced emancipation by seeking separated kin, forming black religious and social institutions, and asserting their rights as citizens.
Creating opportunities for education was a priority. Before the end of 1865, former slaves established a school that would later become Talladega College. Similar institutions appeared across the state in the following decades, producing a robust network of schools and colleges serving the African American community.
Freedom also brought uncertainty over how to make a living and the relationships of African Americans to their former owners. Some sought new homes and new opportunities by relocating, but many remained on the land they had worked prior to the war. The federal Freedmen’s Bureau helped black farmers negotiate new labor agreements with white landowners.
After the war, Alabama faced two monumental tasks: adjusting to the end of slavery and rebuilding a destroyed economy. Freedmen sought to exercise their new rights of citizenship, but many whites sought to regain their former economic and political control. The Ku Klux Klan backed these efforts with widespread violence against blacks and their white allies.
State government, integrated for the first time, attempted to diversify the economy by promoting railroads and the iron industry, but mounting state debt and a national financial crisis hindered recovery.
In 1874, white conservatives won state elections. They soon wrote a new constitution reducing the size of government and centralizing power in Montgomery.
On April 24, 1867, African Americans in Florence nominated John Rapier to serve as voting registrar for an upcoming statewide vote, the first to include black men. Reflecting the magnitude of the moment, the group expressed “a solemn sense of the great responsibilities now resting upon us as enfranchised citizens.”
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