With participation on many levels of Southern society, in 1865 four million black men, women, and children attempted to embrace American freedom. Freedpeople across the South reunited with families separated under slavery, established their own churches and schools, participated in politics, and worked for compensation for the first time in their lives.

The establishment of independent black churches was one of the most important events for African Americans during Reconstruction. The church was one of the few institutions they controlled, and as a result churches became centers of the black community. In addition to being houses of worship, churches established schools, promoted political participation, held social events, and sponsored fraternal organizations.

During the years of Congressional Reconstruction, African Americans actively participated in government, remaining loyal to the Republican Party. Nearly 1,500 blacks were elected or appointed to positions in the Senate and House of Representatives and to local offices in the former
Confederate states.

The majority of blacks in the South turned to sharecrop farming for employment. Under this new system, families rented plots of land from owners and paid with a percentage of the harvest each year. Some blacks left farming behind and exercised their new freedom by seeking work in Southern cities.

Working Children

In small towns across the South, free black children could find work for compensation and took jobs as chimney sweepers and newspaper boys to earn money.