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1865Reconstruction

Laws, Rights, and Retribution

Image of General Order #3 document
Image of General Order #3 document

The nation began transitioning away from slavery in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to African Americans enslaved in the rebelling states. This news did not reach Texas until June 19, 1865, when Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger announced that enslaved African Americans in the state were free. Granger's order also stated that Black people were expected to remain in their present homes (often slave cabins), serve as hired laborers employed by their former enslavers, and refrain from idleness. The order spoke to society’s perception of the abilities and role of free Black people.

An albumen print carte-de-visite portrait of Lt. Governor Oscar J. Dunn. He is photographed standing with his right foot slightly forward than his left and has his left arm resting on a pedestal. He is wearing a dark colored suit, vest and a bowtie. A watch chain is visible on the right side of his vest. He is looking directly at the camera. The photograph is inscribed on at the top and bottom of the front. At the bottom, handwritten in black ink, is: [Lieut Gov. Oscar J. Dunn / of Louisiana].

Oscar J. Dunn, First Elected Black Lieutenant Governor

An albumen print carte-de-visite portrait of Lt. Governor Oscar J. Dunn. He is photographed standing with his right foot slightly forward than his left and has his left arm resting on a pedestal. He is wearing a dark colored suit, vest and a bowtie. A watch chain is visible on the right side of his vest. He is looking directly at the camera. The photograph is inscribed on at the top and bottom of the front. At the bottom, handwritten in black ink, is: [Lieut Gov. Oscar J. Dunn / of Louisiana].

Oscar J. Dunn, First Elected Black Lieutenant Governor

It was not until December 1865 that the 13th Amendment, the first of three Reconstruction Amendments, officially ended slavery. To maintain racial hierarchies, southern states instituted Black Codes—laws restricting Black peoples’ freedoms—and a new form of bondage emerged in the peonage and sharecropping systems. To fight against violence and racist state legislation, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, granting citizenship to those born in the United States. In 1868, the 14th Amendment was ratified, solidifying Black people’s citizenship, due process, and equal protection under the law. Then in 1870 the 15th Amendment granted Black men the right to vote and hold office. White southerners responded violently, subjecting Black voters to a reign of terror, disenfranchisement, and sometimes death.

Reconstruction ended with the presidential election of 1876, and the subsequent Compromise of 1877, where Democrat Samuel J. Tilden agreed to concede the election on the condition that Republican Rutherford B. Hayes withdraw federal troops from the South.