Teaching Activities (Free)

Reconstructing the South: A Role Play

Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. 17 pages.
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.

Time Periods: 19th Century, Reconstruction Period: 1865 - 1876
Themes: African American, Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights, Racism & Racial Identity, Slavery
A farmer plowing in South Carolina, 1866 | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's History

A sketch by Jas. E. Taylor of a farmer plowing in South Carolina, 1866. Image: Library of Congress.

 

What kind of country is this going to be? This was the urgent question posed in the period immediately following the U.S. Civil War. When students learn about Reconstruction, if they learn about this period at all, too often they learn how the presidents and Congress battled over the answer to this question. Textbooks and curricula emphasize what was done to or for newly freed people, but usually not how they acted to define their own freedom.

This role play asks students to imagine themselves as people who were formerly enslaved and to wrestle with a number of issues about what they needed to ensure genuine “freedom”: ownership of land—and what the land would be used for; the fate of Confederate leaders; voting rights; self-defense; and conditions placed on the former Confederate states prior to being allowed to return to the Union.

Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution: An Inquiry Into the Civil War and Reconstruction (Book) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryThe role play’s premise is that the end of the war presented people in our country with a key turning point, that there existed at this moment an opportunity to create a society with much greater equality and justice.

The role play is followed by chapter 11 of Freedom’s Unfinished Revolution: An Inquiry into the Civil War and Reconstruction (New Press, 1996) with discussion questions.

 

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Teacher Testimonial

The lesson Reconstructing the South: A Role Play is excellent for exploring the Reconstruction time period. Too often, periods of American history like this one are presented without relevant connections to today's world, which make our not-so-distant past seem like ancient history to young learners. The role play offers students the opportunity to see the importance of the time period: how much help formerly enslaved people needed, how formerly enslaved people were offered opportunities like never before, and how the country had the opportunity to make major changes in equality and civil rights. This has led to discussions about today's racial issues of police, the justice system, employment, housing, etc., and, as a result, I have been able to open discussions on issues relating to federal powers versus states' rights when it comes to civil rights. This is a wonderful lesson plan I plan on using again and again.
—Andrew Bushor
High Social Studies Teacher, Detroit, Michigan

Read more comments from teachers across the country about this lesson.

 

Teach Reconstruction Campaign

“Reconstructing the South” is one of the lessons developed as part of our campaign to Teach Reconstruction.