NAME:  ________________________________          DATE:  ______________________________________

H6:  Sharecropping                                                                          Ms. Butkowski, Social Studies

A Cycle of Poverty—The Sharecropping System

Sharecroppers were supposed to have a chance to climb the economic ladder, but by the time they had shared their crops and paid their debts, they rarely had any money left.  A sharecropper often became tied to one plantation, having no choice but to work until his or her debts were paid.

1.       Sharecroppers are given small plots of land and seed by the landowners.

2.       Sharecroppers buy food, clothing, and supplies on credit.

3.       They plan a crop (Yields are low, and the same crop year after year depletes the soil)

4.       Sharecroppers must give the landlords a large share of the harvested crop.

5.       Sharecroppers sell what crops remain, but are at the mercy of market prices.

6.       Sharecroppers pay off accounts.  Some landlords and merchants charge unjust fines for late payments.

7.       A few sharecroppers with leftover cash might become tenant farmers.

Answer:  How did the sharecropping system make it hard for small farmers to improve their standard of living?


The Thirteenth Amendment:

The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Lincoln under his war powers, only freed slaves who lived in the states that were behind Confederate lines and not yet under Union control.  The government had to decide what to do about the Border States where slavery was still legal.

The president believed that the only solution would be a constitutional  amendment abolishing slavery.  The Republican-controlled Senate approved an amendment in the summer of 1864, but the House, with its large Democratic membership, did not.  After Lincoln’s reelection, the amendment was reintroduced in the House in January of 1865.  This time the administration convinced a few democrats to vote in its favor with promises of government jobs after they left office.  The amendment passed with two votes to spare.  Spectators—many of them African Americans who were now allowed to sit in the congressional galleries—burst into cheers, while Republicans on the floor shouted in triumph.

By year’s end 27 states, including 8 from the South had ratified the Thirteenth Amendment.  The U.S. Constitution now stated that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. 

Congressional Reconstruction:

Angered by Johnson’s actions, radical and moderate Republican factions decided to work together to shift the control of the Reconstruction process from the executive branch to the legislature.  In mid 1866, moderate Republicans joined with Radicals to override the president’s vetoes of the Civil Rights and Freedmen’s Bureau acts. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 became the first major legislation ever enacted over a presidential veto.  In addition, Congress drafted the Fourteenth Amendment, which provided a constitutional basis for the Civil Rights Act.

The Fourteenth Amendment made “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” citizens of the country.  All were entitled to equal protection of the law, and no state could deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.  The amendment did not specifically give African Americans the vote.  However, it did specify that if any state prevented a portion of its male citizens from voting, that state would lose a percentage of its congressional seats equal to the percentage of citizens kept from the polls. 

Ulysses S. Grant Elected President:  After the election, the Radicals feared that pro-confederate Southern whites might try to limit black suffrage.  Therefore, the Radicals introduced the Fifteenth Amendment, which states that no one can be kept from voting because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”  The amendment would also affect Northern states, many of which at this time barred African Americans from voting. 

The Fifteenth Amendment, which was ratified by the states in 1870 was an important victory for the Radicals.  Some Southern governments refused to enforce the Fourteenth and  Fifteenth Amendments, and some white  Southerners used violence to prevent African Americans from voting.   In response, Congress passed the Enforcement Act of 1870 giving the federal government more power to punish those who tried to prevent African Americans from exercising their rights.

Discuss the historical circumstances surrounding the Civil War Amendments.




Show how the Amendments intended to bring about specific social change.



Evaluate the extent to which the Amendments were successful in bringing about that change.



African Americans Fight Legal Discrimination

As African Americans exercised their newly won political and social rights during Reconstruction, they faced hostile and often violent opposition from whites.  African Americans eventually fell victim to laws restricting their civil rights but never stopped fighting for equality.  For at least ten years after the end of Reconstruction in 1877, African Americans in the South continued to vote and occasionally to hold political office.  By the turn of the 20th century, however, Southern states had adopted a broad system of legal policies of racial discrimination and devised methods to weaken African-American political power.

Voting Restrictions:  All Southern states imposed new voting restrictions and denied legal equality to African Americans.  Some states, for example, limited the vote to people who could read, and required registration officials to administer a literacy test to test treading.  Blacks trying to vote were often asked more difficult questions than whites, or given a test in a foreign language.  Officials could pass or fail applicants as they wished.

Another requirement was the poll tax, an annual tax that had to be paid before qualifying to vote.  Black as well as white sharecroppers were often too poor to pay the poll tax.  To reinstate white voters who may have failed the literacy test or could not pay the poll tax, several Southern states added the grandfather clause to their constitutions.  The clause stated that even if a man failed the literacy test or could not afford the poll tax, he was still entitled to vote if he, his father, or his grandfather had been eligible to vote before January 1, 1867.  The date is important because before that time, freed slaves did not have the right to vote.  The grandfather clause therefore did not allow them to vote.

Jim Crow Laws:  During the 1870s and 1880s, the Supreme Court failed to overturn the poll tax or the grandfather clause, even though the laws undermined all federal protections for African Americans’ civil rights.  At the same time that blacks lost voting rights, Southern states passed racial segregation laws to separate white and black people in public and private facilities. These laws came to be known as Jim Crow laws after a popular old minstrel song that ended in the words, “Jump, Jim Crow.”  Racial segregation was put into effect in schools, hospitals, parks, and transportation systems throughout the South.

Plessy v. Fergusson:  Eventually a legal case reached the U.S. Supreme Court to test the constitutionality of segregation.  In 1896, in Plessy v. Fergusson, the Supreme Court ruled that the separation of races in public accommodations was legal and did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.  The decision established the doctrine of “separate but equal,” which allowed states to maintain segregated facilities for blacks and whites as long as they provided equal service.  This decision permitted legalized racial segregation for almost 60 years.

Answer the following: 

 Describe historical circumstances that let to the End of Reconstruction.






Discuss the political, social, and/or economic changes that resulted from the End of Reconstruction.



Plessy V. Ferguson

Origins of the Case:  in 1892, Homer Plessy took a seat in the “Whites Only” car of a train and refused to move.  He was arrested, tried and convicted in the District Court of New Orleans for breaking Louisiana’s segregation law.  Plessy appealed, claiming that he had been denied equal protection under the law.  The Supreme Court handed down its decision in May 18, 1896.

The Ruling:  The Court ruled that separate-but-equal facilities for blacks and whites did not violate the Constitution.

Legal Reasoning:  Plessy claimed that segregation violated his right to equal protection under the law.  Moreover he claimed that, being “of mixed descent,” he was entitled to “every recognition, right, privilege and immunity secured to the citizens of the United States of the white race.”

Justice Henry B. Brown, writing for the majority ruled:  “The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was…undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but…it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon term unsatisfactory to either.  Laws permitting and even requiring, their separation in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other.”

In truth, segregation laws did perpetrate an unequal and inferior status for African Americans.  Justice John Harlan understood this fact and dissented from the majority opinion.  He wrote, “in respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.”  He condemned the majority for letting the “seeds of race hate…be planted under the sanction of law.”  He also warned that “The thin disguise of ‘equal’ accommodations…will not mislead anyone, nor atone for the wrong this day done.”

Why it mattered:  In the decades following the Civil War, Southern state legislatures passed laws that aimed to limit civil rights for African Americans.  The Black Codes of the 1860s, and later Jim Crow laws, were intended to deprive African Americans of their newly won political and social rights granted during Reconstruction.

Plessy was one of several Supreme Court cases brought by African Americans to protect their rights against segregation.  In these cases, the Court regularly ignored the Fourteenth Amendment and upheld state laws that denied blacks their rights.  Plessy was the mot important of these cases because the Court used it to establish the separate but equal doctrine.

As a result, city and state governments across the South, and in some other states, maintained their segregation laws for more than half of the 20th century.  These laws limited African Americans’ access to most public facilities, including restaurants, schools, and hospitals.  Without exception, the facilities reserved for whites were superior to those reserved for nonwhites.  Signs reading “Colored Only” and “Whites Only” served as constant reminders that facilities in segregated societies were separate but not equal.

Historical Impact:  It took many decades to abolish legal segregation.  During the first half of the 20th century, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) led the legal fight to overturn Plessy.  Although they won a few cases over the years, it was not until 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that the Court overturned any part of Plessy.  In that case, the Supreme Court said that separate-but-equal was unconstitutional in public education, but it did not completely overturn the separate-but-equal doctrine.

In later year, the Court did overturn the separate-but-equal doctrine, and it used the Brown decision to do so.  For example, in 1955 Rose Parks was convicted for violating a Montgomery, Alabama, law for segregating seating on buses.  A federal court overturned the conviction, finding such segregation unconstitutional.  The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld without comment the lower court’s decision.  In doing so in this and similar cases, the Court signaled that the reasoning behind Plessy no longer applied.

Plessy v. Fergusson

1.  Describe the origins of the case.




2.  What was Plessy’s argument?





3.  How did the Court majority explain their decision?  (Justice Henry B. Brown)





4.  What did the dissenting opinion express?  (Justice John Marshall Harlan)





5.  Why did this matter?




6.  What was the historical impact?