Teach Reconstruction Campaign

Reconstruction, the era immediately following the Civil War and emancipation, is full of stories that help us see the possibility of a future defined by racial equity. Yet the possibilities and achievements of this era are too often overshadowed by the violent white supremacist backlash. Too often the story of this grand experiment in interracial democracy is skipped or rushed through in classrooms across the country. Today — in a moment where activists are struggling to make Black lives matter — every student should probe the relevance of Reconstruction. Our campaign aims to help teachers and schools uncover the hidden, bottom-up history of this era.

We offer lessons for middle and high school, a national report, a student campaign to make Reconstruction history visible in their communities, and an annotated list of recommended teaching guides, student friendly books, primary document collections, and films. This campaign is informed by teachers who have used our Reconstruction lessons and a team of Reconstruction scholars.

WhyLessonsNational ReportTextbook Critique •  Petition • Share Your Story •  Related ResourcesStudent ProjectOpen LetterSupportAdvisorsIn the News




When Black Lives Mattered: Why Teach Reconstruction

Reconstruction, the era immediately following the Civil War and emancipation, is full of stories that help us see the possibility of a future defined by racial equity. Though often overlooked in classrooms across the country, Reconstruction was a period where the impossible suddenly became possible.

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A letter dating back to the Reconstruction era

Reconstructing the South: What Really Happened

A follow-up lesson to “Reconstructing the South,” using primary source documents to reveal key outcomes of the Reconstruction era.

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Five Black women who served as officers of the Women’s League in Newport, Rhode Island.

Teaching the Reconstruction Revolution: Picturing and Celebrating the First Era of Black Power

A lesson that help students understand, imagine, and celebrate the Reconstruction period as the first era of Black power in the United States.

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Reconstructing the South: A Role Play

This role play engages students in thinking about what freedpeople needed in order to achieve — and sustain — real freedom following the Civil War. It’s followed by a chapter from the book Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution on what would happen to the land in the South after slavery ended.

Teacher Comments
“I found the lesson plan to be a valuable addition to my teaching about this era. The students were engaged in their roles and, later, more engaged than ever before in finding out what choices were actually made the years following the Civil War.” — Amy Grant, a middle school social studies teacher, Dexter, Michigan

Read more teacher comments.



Reconstruction Mixer Collage (Updated) | Zinn Education Project

Clockwise: Frances Harper, Isaac Myers, William Sylvis, and John Roy Lynch are a few of the people featured in the role play.

When the Impossible Suddenly Became Possible: A Reconstruction Mixer

A mixer role play that explores the connections between different social movements during Reconstruction, introducing students to individuals in the labor movement, women’s rights, and voting rights movements that followed the Civil War and their attempts to build alliances with one another.

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Keith Henry Brown

40 Acres and a Mule: Role-Playing What Reconstruction Could Have Been

This multimedia, creative role play introduces students to the ways African American life changed immediately after the Civil War by focusing on the Sea Islands before and during Reconstruction.

Many historians term this post-war experiment in grassroots democracy and Black self-determination that occurred in the coastal Sea Islands a “rehearsal” for Reconstruction. But the Sea Islands experiment was more than a rehearsal; subsequent Reconstruction plans lacked the key ingredient that made it revolutionary: the redistribution of land.



Reconstruction montageWho Killed Reconstruction? A Trial Role Play

A role play about the demise of Reconstruction that helps students get beyond the question “Was Reconstruction a success or failure?”

This trial role play encourages students to take a broader view of Reconstruction’s demise looking at the role of the major political parties and their wealthy backers, the racism of poor white people, and the systems of white supremacy and capitalism.


More lessons: The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy from Facing History and Almost Emancipated: Reconstruction from Teach Rock.


The Zinn Education Project produced a national report, “Erasing the Black Freedom Struggle: How State Standards Fail to Teach the Truth About Reconstruction,” on the teaching of the Reconstruction era, including a state-by-state assessment.

The report, released in January of 2022, examines state standards, course requirements, frameworks, and support for teachers in each state. It also includes stories about creative efforts by districts and/or individual teachers in each state to teach outside the textbook about Reconstruction.

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One cannot study Reconstruction without first frankly facing the facts of universal lying,” explained scholar W. E. B. Du Bois in 1935. Spurred by that directive, we offer Five Ways Textbooks Lie About Reconstruction by Mimi Eisen as an addition to our national report, Erasing the Black Freedom Struggle.

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Sign the petition urging school boards to examine how much time is dedicated to teaching the Reconstruction era in kindergarten through 12th grade, make a plan to increase it, and ensure that teaching materials and curricula in schools reflect the everyday people who powered these movements.

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Stories from the classroom can inform and inspire more teachers to use lessons on reconstruction. We invite you to share your story. Selected responses will be posted at the Zinn Education Project website.

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The “Make Reconstruction History Visible” mapping project is an opportunity for students and teachers to identify and advocate for recognition of Reconstruction history in their community. This helps students learn about this vital era in U.S. history while also playing an active role in giving visibility to an era that has been hidden or misrepresented for too long.

For this project, students (individually or as a class) identify and document Reconstruction history such as schools, hospitals, election sites, Freedmen’s Bureau offices, Black churches, Black newspapers, Black owned businesses, prominent individuals, organizations, key events, and more. Learn how to participate.

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Teaching Reconstruction - Related Rsources



Banner - Black Power During Reconstruction | Zinn Education ProjectThe Other ’68: Black Power During Reconstruction

Article By Adam Sanchez

From the urban rebellions to the salute at the Olympics, commemorations of 1968 — a pivotal year of Black Power — have appeared in news headlines throughout this anniversary year. Yet 2018 also marks the 150th anniversary of 1868 — the height of Black Power during Reconstruction. Read more.




Related Resources

Readings, primary documents, and films for classrooms about the Reconstruction era.


Open Letter Reconstruction Head

An open letter for school districts to advocate for increased time and resources for instruction about Reconstruction. Signed by more than 200 scholars of U.S. history, the letter begins: “We, the undersigned scholars of U.S. history, urge school districts to devote more time and resources to the teaching of the Reconstruction era in upper elementary, middle, and high school U.S. history and civics courses.” Read and share the letter.


Support Teach Reconstruction | Zinn Education Project

The  Teach Reconstruction campaign is made possible by donations from individuals. Please contribute today so that more teachers receive free lessons on Reconstruction history and more students can participate in the Make Reconstruction History Visible project. Donate now!





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“How Do You Teach Slavery?”
Forgotten in the classroom:
The Reconstruction era
Teaching kids how battles about race from 150 years ago mirror today’s conflicts

Reconstruction Era comes to life in new initiative for SC history classes

Educator Survey

Our national report will be continuously updated. Teachers and other staff at the state, district, or classroom level are invited to complete one of the short surveys below.  Respondents receive a subscription to Rethinking Schools magazine in appreciation for their time.

Teacher & Other School Staff Survey
Staff & District Leader Survey


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