African Americans' interest in colonization was engendered by the
dramatic increase in restrictions placed on them during the late eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries. The slave system in the South was progressively
intensified. The region's agriculturally derived economic prosperity depended
on slavery: one-third of its population consisted of African-Americans in bondage.
Throughout the South, laws were passed that prohibited their manumission.
Meanwhile, rising racism made conditions for Northern blacks more
oppressive. The growth of the free black population - 500,000 by 1860 - was yet
another factor in the effort to keep the nation's African Americans on an
ever-tightening leash. They faced voting restrictions and were, for all intents
and purposes, excluded from the justice system. By the 1830s, state and federal
regulations, popular pressure, and social custom had dispatched them to the
very bottom rungs of the social, economic, and political ladders.
In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, the constitutional
amendments giving them citizenship and voting rights led many African
Americans to hope they would finally be integrated into American society; but
by the end of Reconstruction in 1877, white Northerners' interest in the
problems of recently freed slaves had cooled. The return of the Democratic
Party to power in the South was accompanied by mounting Ku Klux Klan violence
Ways were found - election fraud, poll taxes, confusing balloting
schemes, and suffrage disqualification - to nullify black political strength.
Supreme Court decisions declaring the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional
and upholding legal segregation sped up the process of black subordination. The
federal government also enacted immigration and naturalization laws that
effectively limited citizenship to whites.
In the South, African Americans were relegated back to the farm and,
with little or no money to buy land, they had no choice but to work as tenant
farmers or sharecroppers on white-owned property or as agricultural laborers
earning meager wages. By the turn of the twentieth century, only 20 percent of
African Americans owned their property and were able to maintain some small
degree of independence.
Though people had continuously struggled against bias and oppression,
there were always some who believed that ameliorating their condition was
ultimately impossible. They favored emigration, and some advocated the
establishment of colonies in Africa.