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Reconstruction

Reconstruction, the time period after the Civil War and the end of slavery in the United States, lasted from 1865 to 1877 and brought enormous change both to the nation and the state of South Carolina.

Nationally, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution ended slavery, extended citizenship to formerly enslaved people, and declared that neither race, color, nor previous condition of servitude could be used to prevent people from voting. In South Carolina, the drastic changes led those who opposed them to call the period “Radical Reconstruction.”

Backlash was swift. In 1877, White Democrats used violence and fraud to overthrow the Reconstruction government and elect Wade Hampton III as governor. In 1895, a new state constitution took away many of the protections for African Americans. By the early 1900s, South Carolina had reversed most of Reconstruction’s civil rights gains.

Composite of bust-style photographs of 64 members of the South Carolina legislature during the Reconstruction Era, 51 of whom are labeled as "colored" and 13 as "white." Two White legislators in the middle row have text surrounding them. One says "President Lieutenant Governor Boozer 40 Acres and a Mule." The other says "Judas Moses, who raised the Confederate flag on Fort Sumter." Text at the bottom reads "Radical Members of the So. Ca. Legislature."

1868: “Radical Reconstruction”

South Carolina’s 1868 Constitutional Convention included 49 White and 72 Black delegates. After Congress rejected the attempt to reinstate ex-Confederate domination of government in the South, South Carolinians elected a majority Black legislature, reflecting the state’s majority Black population.

During Reconstruction, most African Americans joined the Republican Party of Lincoln. Most former Confederates remained Democrats, who described their opposition as “radical.”

Courtesy of the South Caroliniana Library

Opportunity, Equality, and Education

The 1868 South Carolina constitution protected many rights of African Americans for the first time. Black men gained the right to vote and hold office, the state legislature was majority African American, and public schools—including the University of South Carolina—were open to all students, regardless of race.
Title page of the 1868 South Carolina Constitution, Ratified April 16, 1868.

1868 In 1868, South Carolina legislators met for a Constitutional Convention.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Eight well-dressed Black women and one Black man sit on steps, looking serious.

1874-1877 To prepare African American teachers, the state of South Carolina established normal schools, like the State Normal School on the campus of the University of South Carolina.
Courtesy of the South Caroliniana Library

Celia Dial Saxon

Educator

Celia Dial Saxon

Educator

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Richard T. Greener's diploma from the University of South Carolina Law School, dated December 12, 1876.

1876 While Richard Greener worked as a professor and librarian at the University of South Carolina, he also attended the university’s Law School. He graduated in 1876.
Courtesy of the South Caroliniana Library

Portrait of Richard T. Greener, a well-dressed Black man with a short mustache.

Richard T. Greener

Professor and lawyer

Richard T. Greener

Professor and lawyer

Richard T. Greener graduated from Harvard College in 1870. He joined the faculty of the University of South Carolina as its first Black professor and served on the university faculty from 1873 to 1877

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Composite of photographs of the 64 "Radical Members of the So. Ca. Legislature."

“The race… ruthlessly spurned and trampled on are here to… demand that the rights which are enjoyed by their former oppressors—who vainly sought to overthrow a government which they could not prostitute to the base uses of slavery—shall be accorded to those who even in the darkness of slavery kept their allegiance true to freedom and the Union.”

Congressman Robert Elliott January 6, 1874, in a speech in favor of a national Civil Rights Act

The End of Reconstruction

Violent backlash occurred throughout Reconstruction. After the 1876 election, federal troops withdrew from the South as part of a compromise to decide the contested presidential election. Supporters of Wade Hampton used violence, intimidation, and fraud to claim the election for governor and overturn the Reconstruction government. This ended Reconstruction in South Carolina as African Americans fled the terrorism of White supremacist rule.

After the Compromise of 1877, White South Carolinians closed the University of South Carolina and reopened it as a White-only institution, formalized Jim Crow segregation, and prevented many African Americans from voting using measures such as poll taxes and literacy tests.

Newspaper calling for Black citizens to meet in response to the Hamburg Massacre.

July 1876 In July 1876, an organized mob of white vigilantes attacked the Black state-formed militia in Hamburg. Six Black men and one white man were killed in this episode of backlash against the gains of Reconstruction.
Courtesy of the South Caroliniana Library

Title page of the 1895 South Carolina Constitution, ratified December 4, 1895.

December 4, 1895 In 1895, following Mississippi’s example, South Carolina’s White representatives called a new Constitutional Convention. This time, the majority White delegates wrote segregation and inequality into law, marking the beginning of the Jim Crow period in South Carolina.