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

Organizations listed for identification purposes only.

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