"Sam wasn’t allowed to attend classes because he was a Negro, but they let him fix the building"
An over-optimistic impression of black life following Emancipation
Public DomainAn over-optimistic impression of black life following Emancipation - Credit: Thomas Nast

Racism and racial discrimination were common in the United States at this time (late 19th century), especially towards African Americans, even though slavery had been abolished in 1865 with the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment. An African American such as Sam might be tolerated to a certain extent in a small town, but he would still have been perceived by many as inferior or even dangerous. Segregation based on race was common and legal, and certain things, such as attending a school run by a white person, would have been impossible for Sam.