A Reconstruction Reading List

Parsons KlanAsk for a book recommendation on Reconstruction and you are likely to get Eric Foner’s masterful synthesis, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877.

It’s still a great place to start, but there has been a good deal published about the period over the past few years and much of it takes us beyond the traditional time-line and spatial framework outlined in Foner.

What follows is a list of books that have pushed me in various ways to think anew about the standard list of events during the postwar period and a host of new ones. Of course, this is not intended as an exhaustive list.

Feel free to add suggestions in the comments section below. Continue reading “A Reconstruction Reading List”

Study Reconstruction in Washington, D.C. This Summer

reconstruction_congressFor those of you who are history teachers looking for professional development opportunities this summer, I encourage you to check out what Ford’s Theatre is offering on the Reconstruction Era. This is still one of the most misunderstood periods in American history and yet an argument could be made that a deep understanding of this history and its legacy has never been more important.

The program will bring you to the nation’s capital for one week to work with historians in a classroom setting and on site at places such as Arlington National Cemetery, the National Archives and the Frederick Douglass House. While the workshop focuses on the broad history of Reconstruction it will use the D.C. as a case study to examine such topics as the postwar push for civil rights and the lives of slaves in area contraband camps and in the Freedman’s Village at Arlington.

I will lead a session on the final day, which will examine the long-term legacy of Reconstruction with an examination of the 1915 film “Birth of a Nation” as well as ways that teachers can connect more recent events to the study of Reconstruction.

Move fast as there are a limited number of spaces.

Hillary Clinton on Lincoln, the Civil War and Reconstruction

Last night at the Democratic Town Hall Meeting in Iowa Hillary Clinton offered up a reminder of why a solid grasp of Reconstruction is essential to our understanding of American history. While the 150th anniversary of the Civil War received a great deal of attention from historic sites, museums and a host of educational institutions, very little is being done to commemorate Reconstruction. Continue reading “Hillary Clinton on Lincoln, the Civil War and Reconstruction”

Teach Reconstruction

Set in South Carolina and released 100 years ago, D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” glorified the Ku Klux Klan as defenders of white Southerners against a black population that was deemed to be unfit for citizenship in the United States.

Actors costumed in the full regalia of the Ku Klux Klan chase down a white actor in blackface in a still from 'The Birth of a Nation,' the first feature-length film, directed by D. W. Griffith, California, 1914.

Last week a photograph taken at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina showed cadets dressed in Klan hoods, who were reportedly singing Christmas Carols.

citadelcadetsOf all the places for this to happen, especially after the racial violence perpetrated by an individual who identified closely with another symbol of this nation’s racist past. Most, if not all the Democratic candidates have called for the removal of a Confederate Navy flag from The Citadel’s Summerall Chapel.

I would be happy if the school’s instructors spent a bit more time on Reconstruction.

Did White Northerners Abandon Reconstruction?

Update: After you finish reading this post check out Brooks Simpson’s thoughtful response to Gordon-Reed’s essay.

One of the most common tropes embraced in reference to the post- Civil War period is the idea of a ‘white Northern retreat from Reconstruction.’  For many, the shift occurred during the mid to late 1870s for a number of reasons, including the threat of labor strikes, the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny or the realization that the South’s racial problems could only be solved locally. Reconstruction’s abandonment followed significant gains on the civil rights front from the passage of three constitutional amendments to military intervention that led to black political action. The white North’s abandonment of Reconstruction points inextricably to missed opportunities and our own inability to deal honestly with deep racial problems. Continue reading “Did White Northerners Abandon Reconstruction?”