With freedom for all when the war ended, African Americans finally could satisfy their desire for formal education. Even before the war, African American teachers such as Mary Peake had secretly educated enslaved people. With the Federal occupation of Fort Monroe in 1861, Peake taught openly, first under a tree now called the Emancipation Oak, and later in a building at present-day Hampton University, which U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Samuel Chapman Armstrong founded as Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute on April 1, 1868. Dozens of white teachers, such as Pennsylvania Mennonite Jacob E. Yoder, who taught at a Freedmen’s Bureau school in Lynchburg, saw their students’ hunger for learning driven by “the fire of liberty in their hearts.”
African American political leaders emerged during Reconstruction. John Mercer Langston, born free in Louisa County in 1829, became a U.S. Congressman and the first president of today’s Virginia State University. Booker T. Washington, born enslaved in 1856 in Franklin County, educated at Hampton University and founder of Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute, advocated for education and training in trades. Attorney James A. Fields, born into slavery in Hanover County in 1844, graduated from Hampton University and served in the Virginia House of Delegates. Carter G. Woodson, born to former slaves in Buckingham County in 1875, pioneered today’s Black History Month and founded the present-day Journal of African American History.
The 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional Amendments abolished slavery, conferred citizenship, and guaranteed African Americans the vote. Quickly, however, former Confederates suppressed political participation through intimidation and new laws, forcing many into sharecropping or tenancy to maintain white farmers’ control. The “Lost Cause” ideology denied the centrality of slavery to secession and war, encouraged the erection of commemorative statues, and inspired Jim Crow segregation laws, crushing dreams of civil and social equality. The Ku Klux Klan, white citizens’ councils, and lynching supported those aims. Not until the Civil Rights Era of the mid-twentieth century were many of the worst effects of segregation struck down.