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President Rutherford B. Hayes withdrew federal soldiers from Louisiana—the last federally occupied former Confederate state—on April 24, 1877.
This was barely 12 years after the Civil War ended — as part of a political deal that permitted his victory. The departure signaled the end of Reconstruction and cleared the way for an unbridled rise of the white race’s dominance in the South, resulting in the fast degradation of Black people’s political rights.
Following the Confederacy’s defeat in the Civil War in 1865, the United States Constitution’s Reconstruction amendments ended slavery, provided citizenship for previously enslaved Black people, and guaranteed Black people civil rights, including the ability to vote. During Reconstruction, federal officials and soldiers stayed in Southern states to assist in the enforcement of these new rights as well as the administration of educational and other programs for the previously slaves. As a consequence, for the first time in history, Black people in the South became voters and public officials, landowners, wage earners, and free American citizens.
The government’s presence also addressed the everyday violence that Black people experience. Slavery in America did not cease; it developed as a result of continued support for white supremacy and racial hierarchy. Many white Americans’ identities, particularly in the South, were built on the assumption that they were intrinsically superior to African Americans. The necessity to treat their former “human property” as equals and pay for their work enraged many white people. Plantation owners retaliated against Black people just for asserting their independence. Thousands of Black people were killed in the first two years following the war for claiming freedom or fundamental rights, often in assaults by white mobs in places like Memphis and New Orleans.
The US Supreme Court invalidated statutes that offered remedies to Black individuals suffering violent intimidation, undermining congressional attempts to give government protection to previously enslaved Black people. Northern politicians started to back away from their promise to preserve Black rights and lives in the 1870s, culminating in the evacuation of soldiers in 1877.
As a result, racial terror and violence against Black people increased, and legal systems arose to restore racial hierarchy: White Southerners denied Black people the right to vote, established an exploitative economic system of sharecropping and tenant farming that would keep African Americans indentured and poor for generations, and made racial segregation the law of the land.