An Open Letter on the Need to Teach the Reconstruction Era

This letter is being circulated for signature by historians on this 150th anniversary year of the 15th Amendment. It will 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 on center stage.

We make this request in 2020, the 150th anniversary of passage of the 15th Amendment ― the Reconstruction Amendment on the right to vote.

This anniversary offers a key opportunity to teach about the long history of the struggle for voting rights and contemporary issues in voting.

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:

  • Commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment in 2020 (as happened in many locations for the 19th Amendment) in districtwide events and communications.
  • 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 in 2020.

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. Curtis Austin, University of Oregon
  6. Jared Ball, Morgan State University
  7. Mario Beatty, Howard University
  8. Kathleen Belew, University of Chicago
  9. Richard Benson, Spelman College
  10. Dan Berger, University of Washington, Bothell
  11. Richard Blackett, Vanderbilt University, Emeritus
  12. Keisha N. Blain, University of Pittsburgh
  13. Eladio Bobadilla, University of Kentucky
  14. Joshua Brown, City University of New York, Emeritus
  15. Say Burgin, Dickinson College
  16. Orville Vernon Burton, Clemson University
  17. Kia Lilly Caldwell, UNC-Chapel Hill
  18. Greg Carr, Howard University
  19. Jim Casey, Princeton University
  20. Daphne R. Chamberlain, Tougaloo College
  21. Robert Cohen, NYU Steinhardt
  22. Emilye Crosby, SUNY Geneseo
  23. Robert Dannin, independent scholar
  24. Ajamu A. Dillahunt, Michigan State University, PhD Student
  25. Rebecca Dixon, Tennessee State University
  26. L. Mara Dodge, Westfield State University
  27. Gregory P. Downs, University of California, Davis
  28. Jim Downs, Connecticut College
  29. Kim Dulaney, Chicago State University
  30. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Rutgers University
  31. Ansley T. Erickson, Teachers College, Columbia University
  32. Ashley Farmer, University of Texas-Austin
  33. Johanna Fernandez, Baruch College, CUNY
  34. Jerise Fogel, Montclair State University
  35. Eric Foner, Columbia University, Emeritus
  36. P. Gabrielle Foreman, Penn State University
  37. Robert Forrant, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  38. Catherine Fosl, University of Louisville
  39. Laura E. Free, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
  40. Kevin Gannon, Grand View University
  41. Irene Gendzier, Boston University, Emeritus
  42. Lawrence Goldstone, independent scholar
  43. Van E. Gosse, Franklin & Marshall
  44. Walter D. Greason, Monmouth University
  45. Hilary N. Green, University of Alabama
  46. Hannah Gurman, New York University
  47. Tona Hangen, Worcester State University
  48. Steven Hahn, New York University
  49. Jon N. Hale, University of South Carolina
  50. Dennis Patrick Halpin, Virginia Tech
  51. Rachel E. Harding, University of Colorado, Veterans of Hope Project
  52. Claudrena N. Harold, University of Virginia
  53. Wesley Hogan, Duke University
  54. Woody Holton, University of South Carolina
  55. Natalie Hopkinson, Howard University
  56. Gerald Horne, University of Houston
  57. William Horne, Villanova University
  58. Tera W. Hunter, Princeton University
  59. Karl Jacoby, Columbia University
  60. Kellie Carter Jackson, Wellesley College
  61. Lawrence Jackson, Johns Hopkins University
  62. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, The Ohio State University
  63. Ida E. Jones, Morgan State
  64. Nick Juravich, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  65. Aaron Katz, University of Washington, Seattle
  66. Robin D. G. Kelley, UCLA
  67. Ibram X. Kendi, American University
  68. Kwasi Konadu, Colgate University
  69. Chenjerai Kumanyika, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
  70. Peter Kuznick, American University
  71. Louis M. Kyriakoudes, Middle Tennessee State University
  72. Talitha LeFlouria, University of Virginia
  73. Samuel Livingston, Morehouse College
  74. James W. Loewen, Catholic University of America
  75. Robert Luckett, Jackson State University
  76. Nancy MacLean, Duke University
  77. Norman Markowitz, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
  78. Bayley J. Marquez, University of Maryland, College Park
  79. Kate Masur, Northwestern University
  80. Jillean McCommons, University of Kentucky, PhD Student
  81. Keri Leigh Merritt, independent scholar
  82. Nancy Raquel Mirabal, University of Maryland, College Park
  83. Carl Mirra, Adelphi University
  84. Brent Morris, University of South Carolina, Beaufort
  85. Guy Emerson Mount, Auburn University
  86. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Harvard Kennedy School
  87. G. Derek Musgrove, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  88. Jeremy Nesoff, Facing History and Ourselves
  89. Rebecca R. Noel, Plymouth State University
  90. Jody Noll, Georgia State University
  91. Margo Okazawa-Rey, San Francisco State University, Emeritus
  92. Paul Ortiz, University of Florida
  93. Tyler D. Parry, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  94. Charles M. Payne, Rutgers University Newark
  95. Jeffrey B. Perry, independent scholar
  96. Charles Postel, San Francisco State University
  97. Margaret Power, Illinois Institute of Technology
  98. Bradley Proctor, The Evergreen State College
  99. Rachel B. Reinhard, UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project
  100. J. T. Roane, Arizona State University
  101. Alaina E. Roberts, University of Pittsburgh
  102. Adam Rothman, Georgetown University
  103. Mark Charles Roudané, independent scholar
  104. Calvin Schermerhorn, Arizona State University
  105. Leslie A. Schwalm, University of Iowa
  106. David Silkenat, University of Edinburgh
  107. Manisha Sinha, University of Connecticut
  108. Alan Singer, Hofstra University
  109. Robyn C. Spencer, Lehman College, CUNY
  110. Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative
  111. William Sturkey, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  112. James L. Swarts, SUNY Geneseo, Emeritus
  113. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Princeton University
  114. Quintard Taylor, University of Washington, Emeritus
  115. Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College
  116. Heather Ann Thompson, University of Michigan
  117. Sheneese Thompson, Bowie State University
  118. Corey D. B. Walker, University of Richmond
  119. Valethia Watkins, Howard University
  120. Stephen A. West, Catholic University of America
  121. Laura Wexler, Yale University
  122. Isabel Wilkerson, author
  123. Kidada E. Williams, Wayne State University
  124. Learotha Williams Jr., Tennessee State University
  125. Naomi R Williams, Rutgers University
  126. Shannen Dee Williams, Villanova University
  127. Yohuru Williams, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota
  128. Nan Elizabeth Woodruff, Pennsylvania State University

Organizations listed for identification purposes only.

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