An Open Letter on the Need to Teach the Reconstruction Era

 

This letter has been signed by more than 200 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. Derrick P. Alridge, University of Virginia
  6. Carol Anderson, Emory University
  7. Thomas Andrews, University of Colorado Boulder
  8. Christian G. Appy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  9. Chris Myers Asch, Colby College
  10. Curtis Austin, Arizona State University
  11. Bruce E. Baker, Newcastle University
  12. Davarian L. Baldwin, Trinity College
  13. Jared Ball, Morgan State University
  14. Simon Balto, The University of Iowa
  15. Alice L. Baumgartner, University of Southern California
  16. Kabria Baumgartner, University of New Hampshire
  17. Mario Beatty, Howard University
  18. Justin Behrend, SUNY Geneseo
  19. Kathleen Belew, University of Chicago
  20. Richard Benson, Spelman College
  21. Dan Berger, University of Washington, Bothell
  22. Iver Bernstein, Washington University in St. Louis
  23. Stephen A. Berrey, University of Michigan
  24. Tithi Bhattacharya, Purdue University
  25. Derek W. Black, University of South Carolina
  26. Richard Blackett, Vanderbilt University, Emeritus
  27. Keisha N. Blain, University of Pittsburgh
  28. William A. Blair, Penn State, Emeritus
  29. Eladio Bobadilla, University of Kentucky
  30. Christopher Bonner, University of Maryland, College Park
  31. David Busch, Case Western Reserve University
  32. Say Burgin, Dickinson College
  33. Orville Vernon Burton, Clemson University
  34. J. Michael Butler, Flagler College
  35. Taylor Branch, author
  36. Allyson Brantley, University of La Verne
  37. Brandi Brimmer, Spelman College
  38. Nancy K. Bristow, University of Puget Sound
  39. Joshua Brown, City University of New York, Emeritus
  40. Kia Lilly Caldwell, UNC-Chapel Hill
  41. Greg Carr, Howard University
  42. Jim Casey, Princeton University
  43. Daphne R. Chamberlain, Tougaloo College
  44. Marcia Chatelain, Georgetown University
  45. Christy Clark-Pujara, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  46. Robert Cohen, NYU Steinhardt
  47. Peter Cole, Western Illinois University
  48. Christy S. Coleman, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation
  49. Dierdre Cooper Owens, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  50. Matthew Countryman, University of Michigan
  51. Karen L. Cox, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  52. Emilye Crosby, SUNY Geneseo
  53. Diana D’Amico Pawlewicz, University of North Dakota
  54. Robert Dannin, independent scholar
  55. Joshua Davis, University of Baltimore
  56. Kelley Fanto Deetz, University of California, Berkeley
  57. Catherine J. Denial, Knox College
  58. Michael Dennis, Acadia University
  59. Ajamu A. Dillahunt, Michigan State University, PhD Student
  60. Rebecca Dixon, Tennessee State University
  61. L. Mara Dodge, Westfield State University
  62. Adam H Domby, Aurburn University
  63. Gregory P. Downs, University of California, Davis
  64. Jim Downs, Gettysburg College
  65. Kim Dulaney, Chicago State University
  66. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Rutgers University
  67. Natanya Duncan, Pennsylvania State University and Lehigh University
  68. Peter Dreier, Occidental College
  69. Taulby H. Edmondson, Virginia Tech
  70. Ansley T. Erickson, Teachers College, Columbia University
  71. Ashley Farmer, University of Texas-Austin
  72. Andrew Feffer, Union College
  73. Crystal N. Feimster, Yale University
  74. Johanna Fernandez, Baruch College, CUNY
  75. Jerise Fogel, Montclair State University
  76. Eric Foner, Columbia University, Emeritus
  77. P. Gabrielle Foreman, Penn State University
  78. Robert Forrant, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  79. Catherine Fosl, University of Louisville
  80. Signe Fourmy, University of Texas at Austin
  81. Nishani Frazier, University of Kansas
  82. Laura E. Free, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
  83. David M. P. Freund, University of Maryland, College Park
  84. Shannon Frystak, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania
  85. Kevin Gannon, Grand View University
  86. Irene Gendzier, Boston University, Emeritus
  87. Judith Giesberg, Villanova University
  88. Lawrence Goldstone, independent scholar
  89. Van E. Gosse, Franklin & Marshall
  90. Frank Andre Guridy, Columbia University
  91. Hannah Gurman, New York University
  92. Walter D. Greason, Macalester College
  93. Hilary N. Green, University of Alabama
  94. Caroline Grego, Queens University of Charlotte
  95. Tona Hangen, Worcester State University
  96. Steven Hahn, New York University
  97. Jon N. Hale, University of South Carolina
  98. Dennis Patrick Halpin, Virginia Tech
  99. Rachel E. Harding, University of Colorado, Veterans of Hope Project
  100. Claudrena N. Harold, University of Virginia
  101. LaShawn D. Harris, Michigan State University
  102. Leslie M. Harris, Northwestern University
  103. Wesley Hogan, Duke University
  104. Woody Holton, University of South Carolina
  105. Natalie Hopkinson, Howard University
  106. Gerald Horne, University of Houston
  107. William Horne, Villanova University
  108. Tera W. Hunter, Princeton University
  109. Karl Jacoby, Columbia University
  110. Kellie Carter Jackson, Wellesley College
  111. Lawrence Jackson, Johns Hopkins University
  112. Ramon Jackson, South Carolina Department of Archives and History
  113. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, The Ohio State University
  114. Gaye Theresa Johnson, University of California at Los Angeles
  115. Ida E. Jones, Morgan State
  116. Jonathan S. Jones, Virginia Military Institute
  117. Martha Suzanne Jones, Johns Hopkins University
  118. Peniel E. Joseph, University of Texas at Austin
  119. Nick Juravich, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  120. Aaron Katz, University of Washington, Seattle
  121. Robin D. G. Kelley, UCLA
  122. Ibram X. Kendi, Boston University
  123. Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie, Howard University
  124. Barclay T. Key, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  125. Kwasi Konadu, Colgate University
  126. Chenjerai Kumanyika, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
  127. Peter Kuznick, American University
  128. Louis M. Kyriakoudes, Middle Tennessee State University
  129. Adam Laats, Binghamton University (SUNY)
  130. Stephanie M. Lampkin, Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage
  131. Ashleigh Lawrence, University of Colorado Boulder
  132. Talitha LeFlouria, University of Virginia
  133. Adriane Lentz-Smith, Duke University
  134. Elizabeth D. Leonard, Colby College, Emeritus
  135. Kevin Levin, independent scholar
  136. Alex Lichtenstein, Indiana University Bloomington
  137. Jeffrey L. Littlejohn,  Sam Houston State University
  138. Samuel Livingston, Morehouse College
  139. Gretchen Long, Williams College
  140. James W. Loewen, Catholic University of America (In memoriam.)
  141. Robert Luckett, Jackson State University
  142. Nancy MacLean, Duke University
  143. Norman Markowitz, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
  144. Bayley J. Marquez, University of Maryland, College Park
  145. Christopher Martell, University of Massachusetts Boston
  146. Kate Masur, Northwestern University
  147. Timothy Patrick McCarthy, Harvard University
  148. Jillean McCommons, University of Kentucky, PhD Student
  149. Austin McCoy, Auburn University
  150. W. Caleb McDaniel, Rice University
  151. Erik S. McDuffie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  152. Charles McKinney, Rhodes College
  153. Keri Leigh Merritt, independent scholar
  154. Nancy Raquel Mirabal, University of Maryland, College Park
  155. Carl Mirra, Adelphi University
  156. Brian Mitchell, University of Arkansas Little Rock
  157. Koritha Mitchell, The Ohio State University
  158. Aldon Morris, Northwestern University
  159. Brent Morris, University of South Carolina, Beaufort
  160. Guy Emerson Mount, Auburn University
  161. William Mountz, Missouri Southern State University
  162. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Harvard Kennedy School
  163. G. Derek Musgrove, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  164. Megan Kate Nelson, historian and writer, Lincoln, Massachusetts
  165. Jeremy Nesoff, Facing History and Ourselves
  166. Marcus P. Nevius, University of Rhode Island
  167. Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander, Norfolk State University
  168. Rebecca R. Noel, Plymouth State University
  169. Jody Noll, Georgia State University
  170. Arlisha R. Norwood, Baruch College
  171. Margo Okazawa-Rey, San Francisco State University, Emeritus
  172. Paul Ortiz, University of Florida
  173. Tyler D. Parry, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  174. Charles M. Payne, Rutgers University Newark
  175. Jeffrey B. Perry, independent scholar
  176. Charles Postel, San Francisco State University
  177. Margaret Power, Illinois Institute of Technology
  178. Bradley Proctor, The Evergreen State College
  179. Benjamin Railton, Fitchburg State University
  180. Ray Raphael, Journal of the American Revolution
  181. Marcus Rediker, University of Pittsburgh
  182. Rachel B. Reinhard, UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project
  183. J. T. Roane, Arizona State University
  184. Alaina E. Roberts, University of Pittsburgh
  185. Dylan Rodríguez, University of California, Riverside
  186. David Roediger, University of Kansas
  187. Hannah Rosen, William & Mary
  188. Adam Rothman, Georgetown University
  189. Joshua D. Rothman, University of Alabama
  190. Mark Charles Roudané, independent scholar
  191. Leslie Rowland, University of Maryland
  192. Calvin Schermerhorn, Arizona State University
  193. Jack Schneider, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  194. Kathryn Schumaker, University of Oklahoma
  195. Leslie A. Schwalm, University of Iowa
  196. Campbell F. Scribner, University of Maryland, College Park
  197. David Silkenat, University of Edinburgh
  198. Bryant SimonTemple University
  199. Alan Singer, Hofstra University
  200. Manisha Sinha, University of Connecticut
  201. Clint Smith, New America
  202. J. Douglas Smith, independent scholar
  203. Robyn C. Spencer, Lehman College, CUNY
  204. Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative
  205. William Sturkey, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  206. James L. Swarts, SUNY Geneseo, Emeritus
  207. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Princeton University
  208. Quintard Taylor, University of Washington, Emeritus
  209. Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College
  210. Heather Ann Thompson, University of Michigan
  211. Sheneese Thompson, Bowie State University
  212. Akinyele Umoja, Georgia State University
  213. Michael Vorenberg, Brown University
  214. Kevin Waite, Durham University
  215. Corey D. B. Walker, University of Richmond
  216. Peter Wallenstein, Virginia Tech
  217. Valethia Watkins, Howard University
  218. Jill Watts, California State University San Marcos
  219. Stephen A. West, Catholic University of America
  220. Laura Wexler, Yale University
  221. Craig Steven Wilder, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  222. Isabel Wilkerson, author
  223. Chad Williams, Brandeis University
  224. David Williams, Valdosta State University, Emeritus
  225. Kidada E. Williams, Wayne State University
  226. Learotha Williams Jr., Tennessee State University
  227. Mason B. Williams, Williams College
  228. Naomi R Williams, Rutgers University
  229. Shannen Dee Williams, Villanova University
  230. Yohuru Williams, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota
  231. Nan Elizabeth Woodruff, Pennsylvania State University
  232. Joshua K. Wright, Trinity Washington University
  233. Donald Yacovone, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University
  234. Thomas Zimmer, Georgetown University

Organizations listed for identification purposes only.

Scholars of U.S. history: To add your name to the list of signers, write to zep@zinnedproject.org

Learn more in the Zinn Education Project national report, “Erasing the Black Freedom Struggle: How State Standards Fail to Teach the Truth About Reconstruction,” and find teaching resources on Reconstruction below.

7 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.

  6. Van Gosse on

    Nothing is more important than our students understanding that we continue to live in an “unfinished revolution.” Leaving out Reconstruction, or diminishing it, distorts US history in the most fundamental way.

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