An Open Letter on the Need to Teach the Reconstruction Era

This letter has been signed by more than 180 scholars of U.S. history. It can be presented to school districts by teachers, scholars, parents, students, and other concerned community members. We will post the names of school districts that resolve to take action. 


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.

Reconstruction is full of stories that can help us see the possibility of a future defined by racial equity. However, too often the story of this grand experiment in interracial democracy is skipped or rushed through in curricula and classrooms. And in the scant coverage it receives, the possibilities and achievements of this era are overshadowed and the violent white supremacist backlash is placed in isolation and on center stage.

It is for these reasons that we ask school district administrators, principals, school boards, curriculum coordinators, teachers, and teacher unions to resolve to take action. Here are a few examples of ways that school districts can ensure that students learn from the history of the Reconstruction era:

  • Assess how much time is currently devoted to the Reconstruction Era in your school district and make a plan to increase it.
  • Critically review the narrative in the district’s textbooks and curricula about Reconstruction to determine if it focuses on the famous leaders and backlash or if it also highlights the bottom-up history and the era’s social and political successes. Make a plan to shift to more of the grassroots history.
  • Increase district support and resources for teaching the Reconstruction Era in U.S. history and in social studies with professional development, books, films, and funds for field experiences.
  • Expand the time devoted to the Reconstruction Era and the Reconstruction Amendments in the social studies, and not just at the high school level.

There are free resources available to schools to teach about Reconstruction from the Zinn Education Project, Facing History and Ourselves, the National Park Service, PBS, and more. Let us know what actions you take so that we can publicly acknowledge your school district’s commitment.

Sincerely,

  1. Catherine Adams, Claflin University
  2. Nicholas J. Aieta, Westfield State University
  3. Shawn Leigh Alexander, University of Kansas
  4. Abdul Alkalimat, University of Illinois
  5. Christian G. Appy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  6. Chris Myers Asch, Colby College
  7. Curtis Austin, University of Oregon
  8. Bruce E. Baker, Newcastle University
  9. Davarian L. Baldwin, Trinity College
  10. Jared Ball, Morgan State University
  11. Simon Balto, The University of Iowa
  12. Alice L. Baumgartner, University of Southern California
  13. Kabria Baumgartner, University of New Hampshire
  14. Mario Beatty, Howard University
  15. Justin Behrend, SUNY Geneseo
  16. Kathleen Belew, University of Chicago
  17. Richard Benson, Spelman College
  18. Dan Berger, University of Washington, Bothell
  19. Iver Bernstein, Washington University in St. Louis
  20. Stephen A. Berrey, University of Michigan
  21. Tithi Bhattacharya, Purdue University
  22. Derek W. Black, University of South Carolina
  23. Richard Blackett, Vanderbilt University, Emeritus
  24. Keisha N. Blain, University of Pittsburgh
  25. Eladio Bobadilla, University of Kentucky
  26. Christopher Bonner, University of Maryland, College Park
  27. Brandi Brimmer, Spelman College
  28. Nancy K. Bristow, University of Puget Sound
  29. Joshua Brown, City University of New York, Emeritus
  30. David Busch, Case Western Reserve University
  31. Say Burgin, Dickinson College
  32. Orville Vernon Burton, Clemson University
  33. Kia Lilly Caldwell, UNC-Chapel Hill
  34. Greg Carr, Howard University
  35. Jim Casey, Princeton University
  36. Daphne R. Chamberlain, Tougaloo College
  37. Christy Clark-Pujara, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  38. Robert Cohen, NYU Steinhardt
  39. Christy S. Coleman, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation
  40. Karen L. Cox, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  41. Emilye Crosby, SUNY Geneseo
  42. Robert Dannin, independent scholar
  43. Joshua Davis, University of Baltimore
  44. Catherine J. Denial, Knox College
  45. Ajamu A. Dillahunt, Michigan State University, PhD Student
  46. Rebecca Dixon, Tennessee State University
  47. L. Mara Dodge, Westfield State University
  48. Adam H Domby, College of Charleston.
  49. Gregory P. Downs, University of California, Davis
  50. Jim Downs, Connecticut College
  51. Kim Dulaney, Chicago State University
  52. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Rutgers University
  53. Natanya Duncan, Pennsylvania State University and Lehigh University
  54. Ansley T. Erickson, Teachers College, Columbia University
  55. Ashley Farmer, University of Texas-Austin
  56. Crystal N. Feimster, Yale University
  57. Johanna Fernandez, Baruch College, CUNY
  58. Jerise Fogel, Montclair State University
  59. Eric Foner, Columbia University, Emeritus
  60. P. Gabrielle Foreman, Penn State University
  61. Robert Forrant, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  62. Catherine Fosl, University of Louisville
  63. Nishani Frazier, University of Kansas
  64. Laura E. Free, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
  65. Kevin Gannon, Grand View University
  66. Irene Gendzier, Boston University, Emeritus
  67. Lawrence Goldstone, independent scholar
  68. Van E. Gosse, Franklin & Marshall
  69. Walter D. Greason, Monmouth University
  70. Hilary N. Green, University of Alabama
  71. Caroline Grego, Queens University of Charlotte
  72. Hannah Gurman, New York University
  73. Tona Hangen, Worcester State University
  74. Steven Hahn, New York University
  75. Jon N. Hale, University of South Carolina
  76. Dennis Patrick Halpin, Virginia Tech
  77. Rachel E. Harding, University of Colorado, Veterans of Hope Project
  78. Claudrena N. Harold, University of Virginia
  79. Leslie M. Harris, Northwestern University
  80. Wesley Hogan, Duke University
  81. Woody Holton, University of South Carolina
  82. Natalie Hopkinson, Howard University
  83. Gerald Horne, University of Houston
  84. William Horne, Villanova University
  85. Tera W. Hunter, Princeton University
  86. Karl Jacoby, Columbia University
  87. Kellie Carter Jackson, Wellesley College
  88. Lawrence Jackson, Johns Hopkins University
  89. Ramon Jackson, South Carolina Department of Archives and History
  90. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, The Ohio State University
  91. Gaye Theresa Johnson, University of California at Los Angeles
  92. Ida E. Jones, Morgan State
  93. Martha Suzanne Jones, Johns Hopkins University
  94. Nick Juravich, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  95. Aaron Katz, University of Washington, Seattle
  96. Robin D. G. Kelley, UCLA
  97. Ibram X. Kendi, American University
  98. Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie, Howard University
  99. Kwasi Konadu, Colgate University
  100. Chenjerai Kumanyika, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
  101. Peter Kuznick, American University
  102. Louis M. Kyriakoudes, Middle Tennessee State University
  103. Stephanie M. Lampkin, Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage
  104. Talitha LeFlouria, University of Virginia
  105. Adriane Lentz-Smith, Duke University
  106. Kevin Levin, independent scholar
  107. Samuel Livingston, Morehouse College
  108. Gretchen Long, Williams College
  109. James W. Loewen, Catholic University of America
  110. Robert Luckett, Jackson State University
  111. Nancy MacLean, Duke University
  112. Norman Markowitz, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
  113. Bayley J. Marquez, University of Maryland, College Park
  114. Kate Masur, Northwestern University
  115. Jillean McCommons, University of Kentucky, PhD Student
  116. Charles McKinney, Rhodes College
  117. Keri Leigh Merritt, independent scholar
  118. Nancy Raquel Mirabal, University of Maryland, College Park
  119. Carl Mirra, Adelphi University
  120. Brian Mitchell, University of Arkansas Little Rock
  121. Aldon Morris, Northwestern University
  122. Brent Morris, University of South Carolina, Beaufort
  123. Guy Emerson Mount, Auburn University
  124. William Mountz, Missouri Southern State University
  125. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Harvard Kennedy School
  126. G. Derek Musgrove, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  127. Jeremy Nesoff, Facing History and Ourselves
  128. Marcus P. Nevius, University of Rhode Island
  129. Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander, Norfolk State University
  130. Rebecca R. Noel, Plymouth State University
  131. Jody Noll, Georgia State University
  132. Arlisha R. Norwood, Baruch College
  133. Margo Okazawa-Rey, San Francisco State University, Emeritus
  134. Paul Ortiz, University of Florida
  135. Tyler D. Parry, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  136. Charles M. Payne, Rutgers University Newark
  137. Jeffrey B. Perry, independent scholar
  138. Charles Postel, San Francisco State University
  139. Margaret Power, Illinois Institute of Technology
  140. Bradley Proctor, The Evergreen State College
  141. Ray Raphael, Journal of the American Revolution
  142. Rachel B. Reinhard, UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project
  143. J. T. Roane, Arizona State University
  144. Alaina E. Roberts, University of Pittsburgh
  145. Hannah Rosen, William & Mary
  146. Adam Rothman, Georgetown University
  147. Joshua D. Rothman, University of Alabama
  148. Mark Charles Roudané, independent scholar
  149. Leslie Rowland, University of Maryland
  150. Calvin Schermerhorn, Arizona State University
  151. Jack Schneider, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  152. Leslie A. Schwalm, University of Iowa
  153. David Silkenat, University of Edinburgh
  154. Alan Singer, Hofstra University
  155. Manisha Sinha, University of Connecticut
  156. Clint Smith, New America
  157. Robyn C. Spencer, Lehman College, CUNY
  158. Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative
  159. William Sturkey, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  160. James L. Swarts, SUNY Geneseo, Emeritus
  161. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Princeton University
  162. Quintard Taylor, University of Washington, Emeritus
  163. Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College
  164. Heather Ann Thompson, University of Michigan
  165. Sheneese Thompson, Bowie State University
  166. Akinyele Umoja, Georgia State University
  167. Corey D. B. Walker, University of Richmond
  168. Valethia Watkins, Howard University
  169. Stephen A. West, Catholic University of America
  170. Laura Wexler, Yale University
  171. Isabel Wilkerson, author
  172. David Williams, Valdosta State University, Emeritus
  173. Kidada E. Williams, Wayne State University
  174. Learotha Williams Jr., Tennessee State University
  175. Mason B. Williams, Williams College
  176. Naomi R Williams, Rutgers University
  177. Shannen Dee Williams, Villanova University
  178. Yohuru Williams, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota
  179. Nan Elizabeth Woodruff, Pennsylvania State University
  180. Joshua K. Wright, Trinity Washington University
  181. Donald Yacovone, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University

Organizations listed for identification purposes only.

2 comments on “An Open Letter on the Need to Teach the Reconstruction Era

  1. Chris Parisi on

    I was taught the false myth of the lost Cause throughout my years as a high school, in Fairfield, CT and as a college student, at Williams College. I began my teaching career teaching those lies in the 1990s, until I read James Loewen, Howard Zinn and John Hope Franklin. My eyes became open wider as I saw the fraudulent white supremacist mythology inside my 2002 A History of the United States by Daniel Boorstin, and I began to openly resist and research through newer scholars like Eric Foner, David Blight, and Ta’Nahesi Coates. Once I found that the trail of lies revolved about glorifying a false Confederate ‘honored dead’ and vilifying Reconstructionist Republicans and Freed African American leaders, in order to reverse history back to a pre-1860 subjugation, I understood that unless Reconstruction is taught correctly, we will continue to breed generations of white nationalists who believe that they are on the correct side of history. Civil Rights cannot progress until new generations of Americans learn the truth about the war for the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments that started with the assassination of Lincoln and continue to present day.

  2. Lin Lin on

    In our teacher education program, for the elementary social studies method/pedagogy course, my colleagues and I choose as the major textbook Dr. James Loewen’s book, “Teaching What Really Happened – How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited about Doing History”, and supplement it with a few selected chapters from Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” – Chapter 1 to encourage students to learn about the Columbian Expeditions from multiple perspectives so that students viewed the historical event from ignored and unrepresented indigenous perspective and the perspective of enslaved Africans; Chapter 2 to learn about the racist beginning of the British colonies in North America when slavery was legalized as an economic system and then a social-cultural norm; Chapter 6 to learn about white and black women living under gender and racial oppression, and question why it took so long for women to win their right to vote; Chapter 17 to learn about the “unheard” stories about the Civil Rights Movement and understand why police was not there to protect African American protestors and demonstrators. Teacher candidates use articles/lessons published in recent “Social Studies and the Young Learners” to learn about the Inquiry Arc and use it to devise lessons for upper elementary grades. Thank you for all the meaningful lesson ideas you have been sharing on your website.

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