The Reconstruction Era and The Fragility of Democracy


REC_book_cover_smallThe Reconstruction Era and The Fragility of Democracy is comprehensive collection of readings, primary documents, video clips, and writing lessons. Produced by Facing History and Ourselves in 2015, the resources are available online for free access by teachers.

Here are a few examples of the documents provided in this unit.

Because of the enormity of the death, destruction, and upheaval caused by the Civil War, reactions to its end were filled with emotion. Here, Caroline Bartlett White (1828-1915) from Brookline, Massachusetts reacts joyfully to the news that the war has ended.

In 1935, W. E. B. Du Bois published an influential book titled “Black Reconstruction in America.” This excerpt describes the role of secrecy and fear in perpetuating mob violence.

After Emancipation, many former slaves adopted new names and surnames. They did so either to take on a surname for the first time, or to replace a name or surname given to them by a former master. Here, three different former slaves discuss their names and the changes they underwent after Emancipation.

Historian Eric Foner writes that the Ku Klux Klan drew support from many more people than those who directly committed violent or threatening acts against freedpeople and white supporters of Reconstruction.

Because of the enormity of the death, destruction, and upheaval caused by the Civil War, reactions to its end were filled with emotion. Here, Kate Stone, who fled from her family’s plantation in Louisiana to Texas during the war, expresses her sorrow at the Confederacy’s defeat and her fears for the future under a Union government.

Freedman Samuel J. Lee was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in the elections of 1868, the first elections in which African Americans voted in the state. He became Speaker of the House in 1872. In 1874, he reported on the improvements to the state education system made by the Republican legislature during Reconstruction.

Klansmen Broke My Door Open

In the late 1860s and early 1870s, the Ku Klux Klan inflicted terror and violence on black Southerners in an effort to intimidate them and influence elections. Abram Colby, an African American legislator from Georgia, was a victim of Klan violence. This is an excerpt from his 1872 testimony given before a congressional committee formed to investigate violence against freedpeople in the South.

This is a highly recommended resource on a period of history that merits greater attention in every U.S. history course on this period in history.

Credit: Primary writer: Daniel Sigward. Funded by Richard and Susan Smith Family Foundation. Facing History and Ourselves, 2015.

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