This 1866 illustration shows black and white families celebrating the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was a historic moment in race relations. Insofar this Civil Rights Bill was an extension of the Emancipation Proclamation, it benefited everyone. The bill was the first step in the quest for making free education and affordable housing available to the disenfranchise population. As citizens they were now eligible to receive federal grants such as the Southern Homestead Act, and Morrill’s Education Land Grant. These two bills were similar to the “forty acres and a mule grant” offered by General William Tecumseh Sherman. The difference was that the Homestead and Morrill bills lasted longer than a year; countless people benefited from them.
During the reconstruction era the majority of southerners were poor whites and newly freed blacks. All suffered from high illiteracy and homelessness. One percent of the population owned five-sixths of the land. Only the wealthy could buy farmland or send their children to school. The public school system had yet to be established. Former abolitionists saw the Fourteenth Amendment as the first step in dismantling the Confederacy’s monopolization of land and education.
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