|Republican Governments in the South
|Digital History ID 3105|
In an event without historical precedent, former slaves joined with white Republicans to govern the South. The freedmen, in alliance with carpetbaggers (Northerners who had migrated South during or after the Civil War) and southern white Republicans derogatorily called scalawags, temporarily gained power in every Confederate state except Virginia. Altogether, over 600 African Americans served as legislators in Reconstruction governments (though blacks comprised a majority only in the lower
house of South Carolina's legislature).
The Republican governments were damned for their extravagance,
but they gave the South its first public school systems, asylums,
and roads. Southern Republicans sought to modernize the South
by building railroads and providing free public education and
other social services. The Reconstruction governments drew up
democratic state constitutions, expanded women's rights, provided
debt relief, and established the South's first state-funded schools.
Before Reconstruction, there were no statewide, tax supported
education systems in the South, except in Tennessee. Freedmen's
academies set up by northern philanthropists to educate former
slaves provided the framework for state education systems. Meanwhile,
the first institutions of higher education for blacks were established
in the South. Black colleges founded during Reconstruction included
Fisk University in Nashville in 1866, Howard University in Washington
in 1867, and Virginia's Hampton Institute in 1868.
To be sure, some of the reconstruction governments were plagued
by inexperienced and incompetent leadership and corruption, which
disillusioned many northerners. There were a number of examples
of flagrant corruption, including one instance in which a state
legislature awarded a thousand dollars to a member to cover a
lost bet on a horse race. In another example, a New York publisher
gave a $30,000 loan to a Georgia official to convince him to adopt
a textbook. Nevertheless, the nation's first integrated governments
had many substantial achievements.
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