The Smearing of America’s First Black Legislators

How corrupt was politics in the Reconstruction era?

The First Colored Senator and Representatives, in the 41st and 42nd Congress of the United States.

Photo illustration by Slate. Images by the Library of Congress.

Formerly enslaved black Americans held a majority of the seats in South Carolina’s state Legislature in 1868, and no other state elected as many black Americans during the Reconstruction era. How successfully did these politicians wield their newfound power? And compared to other eras, was political corruption really as endemic as white Americans claimed?

In Episode 4 of Reconstruction: A Slate Academy, Rebecca Onion and Jamelle Bouie are joined by Kate Masur, the author of An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C., to explore the new political order that surfaced briefly in South Carolina and other Southern states after the Civil War. If you are not yet a Slate Plus member, you can listen to a free preview of the episode in the player below. To hear the entire series, join Slate Plus.