"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."
Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, Norway, 1964.
The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery after the Civil War and freed four million African Americans held as property. The influx of uneducated and unemployed individuals posed a challenge for Southern states, and control over these states was a subject of ongoing debate. The federal government deployed troops and passed civil rights laws, but faced resistance from white Southerners who passed discriminatory laws and formed groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
After the Civil War, Reconstruction brought changes that suggested newfound freedom for former slaves could lead to prosperity. Federal legislation, including Civil Rights Acts, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Fifteenth Amendment, enabled some black Americans to achieve economic independence and win local offices. The political landscape also saw black Americans elected to Congress, marking a significant shift in the nation's history.
After Reconstruction ended in the mid-1870s and federal troops withdrew from the South, progressive changes were reversed. "Jim Crow" laws enforced racial segregation, including voting qualifications that prevented black individuals from voting. In 1896, the Supreme Court's ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson upheld "separate but equal" services and facilities for African Americans, perpetuating economic subjugation and effectively replacing legal slavery with a new form of economic slavery.