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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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.
The Zinn Education Project produced a national report 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Readings, primary documents, and films for classrooms about the Reconstruction era.
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!
- Shawn Leigh Alexander is an associate professor of African and African American Studies and the director of the Langston Hughes Center at the University of Kansas. Alexander is the author of An Army of Lions: The Struggle for Civil Rights Before the NAACP, and editor of Reconstruction Violence and the Ku Klux Klan Hearings.
- Derek W. Black is professor of law and the Ernest F. Hollings Chair in Constitutional Law at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of Schoolhouse Burning: Public Education and the Assault on American Democracy.
- David Blight is a professor of American history at Yale University and the director of the Gilder Lehman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. Blight is the author of several books including A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom and Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.
- Gregory Carr is associate professor of Africana Studies, chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, and Adjunct Faculty at the Howard School of Law. Carr is co-founder of the Philadelphia Freedom Schools Movement.
- Michael Charney is a retired public school social studies teacher with over 30 years of experience in education, labor organizing, and education policy. He provides strategic guidance to the campaign. Charney wrote curriculum guides to support student organizing including “Fulfilling the Promise of America: The Struggle for Voting Rights,” “The Minimum Wage and the Youth Vote (PDF),” and the “Present as History: A Look into the Origins of the Cleveland School Desegregation Case.”
- Gregory P. Downs is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Davis, and the author of After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War. Downs is also the co-author of the National Parks Service’s Theme Study, The Era of Reconstruction 1861-1900.
- Jim Downs is professor of history and the interim director of the American Studies Program at Connecticut College. Downs is the author of several books including Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction and Beyond Freedom: Disrupting the History of Emancipation which he co-edited with David Blight.
- Hilary N. Green is an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama and serves as the co-program director of the African American Studies program. Green is the author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890.
- Steven Hahn is a professor of history at New York University and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History for his book A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration.
- William Loren Katz was the author of numerous books on U.S. history for middle school students, including An Album of Reconstruction. (In memoriam.)
- Chenjerai Kumanyika is a researcher, journalist, and artist who works as an assistant professor in Rutgers University’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies. He is also the co-executive producer and co-host of “Uncivil,” Gimlet Media’s podcast on the Civil War.
- James Loewen is the emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Vermont and the author of several books including Lies My Teacher Told Me, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong and The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”. (In memoriam.)
- Kate Masur is an associate professor of history and African-American studies at Northwestern University and author of Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, From the Revolution to Reconstruction and An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C. Masur is also the co-author of the National Parks Service’s Theme Study The Era of Reconstruction 1861-1900.
- Jeremy Nesoff is associate director for staff development at Facing History and Ourselves. He was a 7-12th grade social studies teacher and administrator for 10 years, in a small New York City public school and a small Vermont progressive independent school. Nesoff has been on staff at Facing History for more than 10 years. Among his roles is leading work connected to the curriculum unit The Reconstruction Era and The Fragility of Democracy.
- Paul Ortiz is the director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida. Ortiz is the author of Emancipation Betrayed The Hidden History of Black Organizing & White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 and An African American and Latinx History of the United States.
- Tyler Parry is an associate professor in African American studies at California State University, Fullerton. He studies slavery, the African Diaspora, and the Atlantic world, and is the author of “Black Radicalism and the ‘Tuition-Free’ University,” an article exploring the profound impact South Carolina’s majority Black Reconstruction era legislature had on public education.
- Tiffany Mitchell Patterson is an assistant professor of secondary social studies in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction/Literacy Studies at West Virginia University.
- David Roediger is the foundation professor at the University of Kansas. He is the author of several books on race and class in the United States including Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All.
- Mark Roudané is a retired early childhood teacher. He is dedicating his life to documenting and sharing the history of his great, great grandfather, Charles Roudanez, who founded the New Orleans Daily Tribune, the first daily Black newspaper during Reconstruction.
- Manisha Sinha is the James L. and Shirley A. Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut. She is the author of The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina and of the award-winning The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition.
- Stephen West is an associate professor of history at the Catholic University of America. West is author of From Yeoman to Redneck in the South Carolina Upcountry, 1850–1915 (2008) and co-editor of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867, series 3, volume 2, Land and Labor, 1866–1867 (2013).
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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