School Improvement in Maryland
Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic B. Emergence, Expansion and Changes in Nations and Empires

Indicator 5. Analyze the political, economic, and social goals of Reconstruction

Objective d. Evaluate the social and economic impact of sharecropping, tenant farming and the Freedman's Bureau in the post Civil War South

Clarification

Despite the passage of federal legislation designed to protect the rights of African Americans and promote their self-sufficiency, local laws and practices left recently freed people with few opportunities. The Freedman’s Bureau, created in March 1865 and reauthorized in 1866, was charged with protecting the economic and political rights of African Americans and helping ex-slaves make the transition to freedom. It provided ex-slaves with food, clothing, and medical care, negotiated labor contracts, and set-up schools. Although the Bureau had great success in providing educational opportunities to African Americans, its success in assisting freed slaves economically was modest. Rather than declaring itself the protector of African Americans, it attempted to be an impartial mediator between freed slaves and planters and never took the dramatic actions necessary to truly improve the lot of freed slaves. By 1872, the Freedmen’s Bureau was disbanded.

To many recently freed slaves, farming one’s own land represented the opportunity to control their own destiny. But even with help from the Freedman’s Bank, few African Americans were able to purchase their own land, and many were reluctant to become wage laborers, which they believed would be too much like slavery. Many African Americans chose tenant farming or sharecropping. In both systems, the farmer worked a plot of ground owned by another person. Tenant farmers were able to pay their rent in cash, but sharecroppers paid their rent by paying a portion of the crop – usually about one-half – to the landowner at the end of the year. The landowner provided the sharecropper with food and supplies during the course of the year, for which the sharecropper also had to pay at year’s end, leaving him with very little to sell for his own profit or even use to feed his family. Tenant farmers obtained their own supplies, but the credit system at local stores (often owned by the landowner himself) often forced them to place liens on their crops. The result was that both sharecroppers and tenant farmers found themselves unable to get ahead or in constant debt, especially as Reconstruction came to an end and Democrats changed sharecropping and crop lien regulations to favor landowners heavily. African Americans found themselves in a condition little better than slavery, both socially and economically.

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