A case could be made that slavery need not have led America into Civil War. The U.S. government had banned the importation of slaves long before, in 1808. The great powers of Europe would soon ban slavery altogether (Spain in 1811, France in 1826, and Britain in 1833). Visiting foreign dignitaries in the mid-1800s were often shocked to find the practice in full swing in the American South. Even Brazil, the world center of slavery, where four out of every 10 African slaves were brought (less than 5 percent came to the U.S.), would ban slavery in 1888.
Still, the die was cast, the war was fought, and everyone had to deal with the aftermath. For a brief time, Sherman’s benevolent dictatorship on the coast held promise for an orderly post-war future. In 1865, he issued his sweeping “40 acres and a mule” order seeking dramatic economic restitution for coastal Georgia’s free blacks. However, politics reared its ugly head in the wake of Lincoln’s assassination and the order was rescinded, ushering in the chaotic Reconstruction era, echoes of which linger to this day.
Even as the trade in cotton and naval stores resumed to even greater heights than before, urban life and racial tension became more and more problematic. Urban population swelled as freed blacks from all over the depressed countryside rushed into the cities. As one, his name lost to history, famously said: “Freedom was free-er in Charleston.”
It was at this time that the foundation for Jim Crow and its false promise of “separate but equal” was laid. Racial in origin, the Jim Crow laws also displayed a clear socioeconomic bias as well; it was during Reconstruction that the practice evolved in some areas of wealthy whites walking on one side of the streets and poor whites and all blacks walking on the other side.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition