Reconstruction refers to the process of reorganizing the southern states and readmitting them to the Union. It generally began once U.S. forces occupied a Confederate territory, and involved freeing local slaves and extending political rights to them. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan foreshadowed the difficulties that African Americans would face once the last Federal forces withdrew from the south in 1877, leaving blacks vulnerable to segregationist “Jim Crow” laws.
First Federal Issue revenue stamp on slave girl photograph, c. 1864
The National Freedmen’s Relief Association sold a series of slave photographs to raise money for educational projects in occupied New Orleans. They favored images of obviously mixed-race children, which appealed to a white audience. Photographs were taxed according to their retail value, and a government revenue stamp is found on the reverse.
Baltimore Association cover, c. 1865
Addressee Rebecca Primus was an African American teacher from Connecticut brought south by the “Baltimore Association for the Moral and Education Improvement of the Colored People” to open a school for freed blacks in eastern Maryland.
Freedmen's Bureau cover, c. 1865-1872
Private charity could only partially meet former slaves’ needs, which ranged from food and clothing to employment and education. Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865 with Major General Oliver O. Howard as its commissioner. A Medal of Honor recipient, he later served as president of Howard University. His signature indicated that no postage was due.
First Federal Issue revenue stamps on sharecropping contract, March 6, 1868
Southern landowners no longer owned slaves, and most freedmen owned no land. This dilemma resulted in the sharecropping system, in which free blacks (and many poor whites) farmed someone else’s land in return for one-quarter to two-thirds of the crop, depending on how much the landowner was obligated to provide for them.
½ lb., 3 lb., and 5 lb. tobacco taxpaid stamps, 1868
Long before famous African Americans were celebrated on postage stamps, poor black sharecroppers appeared on a series of revenue stamps issued to collect the tax on one of their major crops—tobacco. Similar images appeared on banknotes and checks of the period.