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

Organizations listed for identification purposes only.

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

  1. Amine on

    A must for all Americans. One will never truly understand American history without understanding and demythologizing this profound glorious betrayal in the first attempt at a multiracial democracy in America. The lost cause myth, white supremacy and the vicious legacy of slavery can only be put in context with this dark and tragic moment in our history.

  2. huda Gerard-Seif on

    The lack of academic interests in teaching this important sector of American history is indeed a travesty in our educational system. It always breaks my heart when my college students say to me “I did not know this” while at the same time I encounter other students in different parts of the world who are knowledgeable of this dark side of American history. The fault lies in all the structures of our society that subconsciously seeks to omit this chapter and I think it is because it is not just a history but a history that still lingers in and permeates the present.

  3. William McGee on

    Lies My Teacher Told Me, is still a great read to me. I read this in college, and was blown away. I wish I would have applied myself in high school….I was a lazy high school student, but this type of curriculum would have engaged me.

  4. 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.

  5. 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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