On this dayApr 24, 1877

Federal Troops Leave South, Ending Reconstruction

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On April 24, 1877, as part of a political compromise that enabled his election, President Rutherford B. Hayes withdrew federal troops from Louisiana -- the last federally-occupied former Confederate state -- just 12 years after the end of the Civil War. The withdrawal marked the end of Reconstruction and paved the way for the unrestrained resurgence of white supremacist rule in the South, carrying with it the rapid deterioration of political rights for black people.

After the Confederacy's 1865 defeat in the Civil War, Reconstruction amendments to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery, established the citizenship of formerly enslaved black people, and granted black people civil rights -- including granting black men the right to vote. For the Reconstruction period, federal officials and troops remained in Southern states helping to enforce these new rights and administer educational and other programs for the formerly enslaved. As a result, black people in the South, for the first time, constituted a community of voters and public officials, landowners, wage-earners, and free American citizens.

The federal presence also addressed deadly violence black people faced on a daily basis. Continued support for white supremacy and racial hierarchy meant that slavery in America did not end – it evolved. The identities of many white Americans, especially in the South, were grounded in the belief that they were inherently superior to African Americans. Many white people reacted violently to the requirement to treat their former “human property” as equals and pay for their labor. Plantation owners attacked black people simply for claiming their freedom. In the first two years after the war, thousands of black people were murdered for asserting freedom or basic rights, sometimes in attacks by white mobs in communities like Memphis and New Orleans.

Congressional efforts to provide federal protection to formerly enslaved black people were undermined by the United States Supreme Court, which overturned laws that provided remedies to black people facing violent intimidation. In the 1870s, Northern politicians began retreating from a commitment to protect black rights and lives, culminating in the withdrawal of troops in 1877. In response, racial terror and violence directed at black people intensified and legal systems quickly emerged to restore racial hierarchy: white Southerners barred black people from voting; created an exploitative economic system of sharecropping and tenant farming that would keep African Americans indentured and poor for generations; and made racial segregation the law of the land.

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