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Most historians date the Reconstruction Period from the surrender of the Confederate Armies in 1865 until the withdrawal of Federal Troops in 1877. As with most eras, Reconstruction in South Carolina is not so neatly bounded. Reconstruction in the state had its roots in the "Port Royal Experiment," which began in November 1861 in the Union-occupied territory around Port Royal including Hilton Head, Beaufort and St. Helena Island.

A concentrated effort to emancipate, educate and assure the health and well being of 400,000 African American citizens of South Carolina sets this era apart in the history of the state. The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands played a prominent role in these efforts. Some of the earliest attempts to obtain civil rights for all peoples of the state occurred during this time. African American leaders dominated state government because a large percentage of South Carolina white males had been disenfranchised by their service in the Confederate military. Toward the end of this period, however, much of the progressive legislation was reversed as the old order returned and established a government dominated by the white minority.

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