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Examining the Civil War and Reconstruction with Gale's Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers

Discover the rise of black political activism during the Reconstruction era with Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers.


About Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers

After the Civil War, the United States was faced with the task of reuniting and reconstructing the former confederate south.  During this Reconstruction Era (roughly 1863-1877), the country also wrestled to define the rights of newly freed slaves. With the support of the federal government, and through several constitutional amendments, African Americans gained basic rights. More African American men were able to participate in political processes like constitutional conventions, and around 2000 served in politically elected local, state, and federal offices.

Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers provides cover-to-cover access to papers across the United States throughout the nineteenth century. When it comes to the Reconstruction Era, articles within newspapers from different regions and with different affiliations reveal the rise of and reaction to black political activism during this time.

Use the search examples below as a starting point, and brainstorm additional terms and strategies to discover the rise of black political activism during the Reconstruction Era.

Search for African American Leaders

Use search options to find newspaper articles related to prominent African American figures during the Reconstruction.

Start with a simple Keyword Search for the name of the individual. Consider whether to use name variations like initials in your search.

If your keyword search uncovers few results or too many results, use Advanced Search options to alter your search strategy.

To widen a search, use the Entire Document option to search the full text of all articles for any mention of the individual's name.

If a keyword search returns too many results, narrow the search. Try using the Document Title option to search for articles that mention an individual within the title, and therefore directly pertain to that individual.

For example, a Document Title search for Pinchback, reveals a number of interesting results related to P.B.S. Pinchback, who served as the first African American governor of a state (Louisiana).

PInchback was elected to the U.S. Senate by Republicans in Louisiana. Pinchback presented his credentials to the Senate, but was never seated.  In this article he defends himself from character attacks and says "...language emanating from a white man, which would be appropriate and manly, when uttered by me, one of a proscribed race, would be deemed impertinent and turbulent."

Pinchback, P. B. "Pinchback Personally." Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, 16 Feb. 1876, p. 7. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers.


Pinchback remained involved in politics after not being seated in the Senate. The following article described his efforts to encourage African American voters after the end of the Reconstruction.

EX-Gov. Pinchback, of Louisiana, and Representative O'Hara, North Carolina, have been making a quiet tour through the South to encourage voters of their race and party, and are now in New York." Southwestern Christian Advocate, 18 Sept. 1884, p. 4. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers.


Compare Regional Coverage of Acts and Amendments

Search for key Reconstruction organizations and legislation like the Union League, the Freeedmen's Bureau, and the fourteenth ammendment to the constitution of the United States.

If your search returns a large number of results, consider adding quotes around the name of the organization or legislation to ensure that results use those exact words in their exact order. You may also want to limit your results to the years of the reconstruction.

Limit results by Publication Title to view articles from a specific newspaper. Use this feature to compare perspectives from different regions on key developments over the course of the Reconstruction.

For example, a Keyword search for "Civil Rights Bill" returns results that indicate the divide between publications like those below.

The Arkansas Gazette says radicals "would pass a law, subversive of the Constitution which he [the President] has sworn to support, and then demand of him to execute it, or stand an impeachment."

"A Dangerous Drift." Arkansas Gazette, 10 Apr. 1866. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers.


The Vermont Watchman, on the other hand, provides a more supportive perspective and says the bill "only puts free blacks where they were in the earlier and better days of the Republic, making them citizens."

"Protection of Civil Rights." Vermont Watchman, 9 Feb. 1866. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers.

Customize Your Search

Combine Advanced Search options to target unique results that provide insight into the exercise of and reactions to African American political activism during the Reconstruction.

For example, an Advanced Search that combines a Keyword Search for regist* (the * allows the search to return any terms that begin with regist, including register and registered) and an Entire Document Search for Freedmen or Union League returns articles that highlight actions to encourage African American voter registration as well as results that share negative reactions from former confederates who opposed these actions.

This article from The Morning Republican underscores organized efforts to register and encourage African American voters.

"In Charleston, South Carolina, Thursday evening, a torchlight procession of members of the Union League, numbering about two thousand, marched through the streets for the purpose of calling out freedmen not yet registered." Morning Republican, 26 Aug. 1867. Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers.