One of the most important aspects of Reconstruction was the active participation of African Americans (including thousands of former slaves) in the political, economic and social life of the South. The era was to a great extent defined by their quest for autonomy and equal rights under the law, both as individuals and for the black community as a whole. During Reconstruction, some 2,000 African Americans held public office, from the local level all the way up to the U.S. Senate, though they never achieved representation in government proportionate to their numbers.
Rise of Black Activism Before the Civil War began, African Americans had only been able to vote in a few northern states, and there were virtually no black officeholders. The months after the Union victory in April 1865 saw extensive mobilization within the black community, with meetings, parades and petitions calling for legal and political rights, including the all-important right to vote. During the first two years of Reconstruction, blacks organized Equal Rights Leagues throughout the South and held state and local conventions to protest discriminatory treatment and demand suffrage, as well as equality before the law.
Did you know? In 1967, almost a century after Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce served in the U.S. Senate during Reconstruction, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts became the first African American senator elected by popular vote.