|These two photographs encapsulate one aspect of the tragedy of the period after the Civil War known as Reconstruction, which lasted from 1865 to 1876. During Reconstruction, Federal military forces occupied the former states of the Confederacy. Their role was to provide security and oversee the reintegration of the former rebellious states into the Union. |
During Reconstruction, the more radical of the Republicans hoped to orchestrate political and social change so that former slaves would have a fully participatory role in the economy and government of the southern states. African Americans identified almost universally with the Republicans and sought political office as members of that party, and many were elected to state and national positions.
However, the forces of white supremacy could not tolerate change this profound, and within a few years of the end of the Civil War, groups such as the Ku Klux Klan had organized to employ terroristic violence against both Blacks and any whites who supported them. The raid on Huntsville is a good example of how such groups could operate almost without fear of the local authorities. The Federal troops stationed in the are could only act after the fact, and not effectively. They captured the KKK robes and weapons shown in the photographs, but could not stop the men who used them. Slowly but surely, the campaign of terror wore away at the national resolve to promote equality for the former slaves, and their leaders and supporters were either murdered, run out of town, or terrified into silence. By 1876, Reconstruction was effectively dead, and the the era of Jim Crow segregation and subjugation had begun.