Life Patterns of the Freedom Generation
When black progress slowed and "den went back" again, society fastened cruel constraints on the destiny of millions of southern freedmen. The failure of Reconstruction doomed the former slaves to lives stunted by the effects of caste and color prejudice. Instead of the legendary opportunity to rise to the limit of one's abilities, America offered black people a second-class citizenship that soon withered further before political exclusion and social segregation. Under the control of the Redeemers, the South first crippled and then eliminated many essential rights of black citizens, returning them to a role little different from slavery. This is a tragic and saddening story, which historians have been telling with accuracy and care in recent years.
The slave narratives provide a black perspective on these depressing events, but they do much more besides. In the life histories of the former slaves there is another story, a story of personal triumphs in the face of social defeats. Despite the limitations that America imposed, thousands of freedmen shaped rewarding lives for themselves based upon family and religion. Faith and fidelity, endurance and love, were the foundation stones upon which many built lives of honor and personal achievement in a forbidding environment. Oppression robbed southern blacks of a real opportunity for material progress, but such oppression could not eradicate their humanity. One's central challenge, as Judge Learned Hand once observed, is to be a success as a human being, and large numbers of the freedmen rose to that challenge in spite of everything else.
Promising more than it delivered and raising hopes that it