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In 1863, during the American Civil War (1861–1865), President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in the southern states at war with the North. The 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1865, outlawed slavery in the United States. In 1868, the 14th amendment granted full U.S. citizenship to African-Americans. The 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, extended the right to vote to black males.

The Emancipation Proclamation.

After the Union victory over the Confederacy, a brief period of southern black progress, called Reconstruction, followed. From 1865 to 1877, under protection of Union troops, some strides were made toward equal rights for African-Americans. Southern black men began to vote and were elected to the United States Congress and to local offices such as sheriff. Coalitions of white and black Republicans passed bills to establish the first public school systems in most states of the South, although sufficient funding was hard to find. Blacks established their own churches, towns and businesses. Tens of thousands migrated to Mississippi for the chance to clear and own their own land, as 90% of the bottomlands were undeveloped. By the end of the century, two-thirds of the farmers who owned land in the Mississippi Delta bottomlands were black.

The aftermath of the Civil War accelerated the migration of blacks. Tens of thousands of Black northerners left homes and careers and also migrated to the defeated South, building schools, printing newspapers, and opening businesses. As Joel Williamson puts it:

Many of the migrants, women as well as men, came as teachers sponsored by a dozen or so benevolent societies, arriving in the still turbulent wake of Union armies. Others came to organize relief for the refugees…. Still others… came south as religious missionaries… Some came south as business or professional people seeking opportunity on this… special black frontier. Finally, thousands came as soldiers, and when the war was over, many of [their] young men remained there or returned after a stay of some months in the North to complete their education.

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