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. David Barber, University of Tennessee at Martin
  16. Alice L. Baumgartner, University of Southern California
  17. Kabria Baumgartner, University of New Hampshire
  18. Mario Beatty, Howard University
  19. Justin Behrend, SUNY Geneseo
  20. Kathleen Belew, University of Chicago
  21. Richard Benson, Spelman College
  22. Dan Berger, University of Washington, Bothell
  23. Iver Bernstein, Washington University in St. Louis
  24. Stephen A. Berrey, University of Michigan
  25. Tithi Bhattacharya, Purdue University
  26. Derek W. Black, University of South Carolina
  27. Richard Blackett, Vanderbilt University, Emeritus
  28. Keisha N. Blain, University of Pittsburgh
  29. William A. Blair, Penn State, Emeritus
  30. Eladio Bobadilla, University of Kentucky
  31. Christopher Bonner, University of Maryland, College Park
  32. Taylor Branch, author
  33. Allyson Brantley, University of La Verne
  34. Brandi Brimmer, Spelman College
  35. Nancy K. Bristow, University of Puget Sound
  36. Joshua Brown, City University of New York, Emeritus
  37. David Busch, Case Western Reserve University
  38. Say Burgin, Dickinson College
  39. Orville Vernon Burton, Clemson University
  40. J. Michael Butler, Flagler College
  41. Kia Lilly Caldwell, UNC-Chapel Hill
  42. Greg Carr, Howard University
  43. Jim Casey, Princeton University
  44. Daphne R. Chamberlain, Tougaloo College
  45. Marcia Chatelain, Georgetown University
  46. Christy Clark-Pujara, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  47. Robert Cohen, NYU Steinhardt
  48. Peter Cole, Western Illinois University
  49. Christy S. Coleman, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation
  50. Dierdre Cooper Owens, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  51. Matthew Countryman, University of Michigan
  52. Karen L. Cox, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  53. Emilye Crosby, SUNY Geneseo
  54. Diana D’Amico Pawlewicz, University of North Dakota
  55. Robert Dannin, independent scholar
  56. Joshua Davis, University of Baltimore
  57. Kelley Fanto Deetz, University of California, Berkeley
  58. Catherine J. Denial, Knox College
  59. Michael Dennis, Acadia University
  60. Ajamu A. Dillahunt, Michigan State University, PhD Student
  61. Rebecca Dixon, Tennessee State University
  62. L. Mara Dodge, Westfield State University
  63. Adam H Domby, Aurburn University
  64. Gregory P. Downs, University of California, Davis
  65. Jim Downs, Gettysburg College
  66. Kim Dulaney, Chicago State University
  67. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Rutgers University
  68. Natanya Duncan, Pennsylvania State University and Lehigh University
  69. Peter Dreier, Occidental College
  70. Taulby H. Edmondson, Virginia Tech
  71. Ansley T. Erickson, Teachers College, Columbia University
  72. Ashley Farmer, University of Texas-Austin
  73. Andrew Feffer, Union College
  74. Crystal N. Feimster, Yale University
  75. Johanna Fernandez, Baruch College, CUNY
  76. Jerise Fogel, Montclair State University
  77. Eric Foner, Columbia University, Emeritus
  78. P. Gabrielle Foreman, Penn State University
  79. Robert Forrant, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  80. Catherine Fosl, University of Louisville
  81. Signe Fourmy, University of Texas at Austin
  82. Nishani Frazier, University of Kansas
  83. Laura E. Free, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
  84. David M. P. Freund, University of Maryland, College Park
  85. Shannon Frystak, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania
  86. Kevin Gannon, Grand View University
  87. Irene Gendzier, Boston University, Emeritus
  88. Judith Giesberg, Villanova University
  89. Lawrence Goldstone, independent scholar
  90. Van E. Gosse, Franklin & Marshall
  91. Francis Gourrier, Kenyon College
  92. Frank Andre Guridy, Columbia University
  93. Hannah Gurman, New York University
  94. Walter D. Greason, Macalester College
  95. Hilary N. Green, University of Alabama
  96. Caroline Grego, Queens University of Charlotte
  97. Tona Hangen, Worcester State University
  98. Steven Hahn, New York University
  99. Jon N. Hale, University of South Carolina
  100. Dennis Patrick Halpin, Virginia Tech
  101. Rachel E. Harding, University of Colorado, Veterans of Hope Project
  102. Claudrena N. Harold, University of Virginia
  103. LaShawn D. Harris, Michigan State University
  104. Leslie M. Harris, Northwestern University
  105. Wesley Hogan, Duke University
  106. Woody Holton, University of South Carolina
  107. Natalie Hopkinson, Howard University
  108. Gerald Horne, University of Houston
  109. William Horne, Villanova University
  110. Tera W. Hunter, Princeton University
  111. Karl Jacoby, Columbia University
  112. Kellie Carter Jackson, Wellesley College
  113. Lawrence Jackson, Johns Hopkins University
  114. Ramon Jackson, South Carolina Department of Archives and History
  115. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, The Ohio State University
  116. Gaye Theresa Johnson, University of California at Los Angeles
  117. Ida E. Jones, Morgan State
  118. Jonathan S. Jones, Virginia Military Institute
  119. Martha Suzanne Jones, Johns Hopkins University
  120. Peniel E. Joseph, University of Texas at Austin
  121. Nick Juravich, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  122. Aaron Katz, University of Washington, Seattle
  123. Robin D. G. Kelley, UCLA
  124. Ibram X. Kendi, Boston University
  125. Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie, Howard University
  126. Barclay T. Key, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  127. Kwasi Konadu, Colgate University
  128. Dale Kretz, independent scholar
  129. Chenjerai Kumanyika, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
  130. Peter Kuznick, American University
  131. Louis M. Kyriakoudes, Middle Tennessee State University
  132. Adam Laats, Binghamton University (SUNY)
  133. Stephanie M. Lampkin, Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage
  134. Ashleigh Lawrence, University of Colorado Boulder
  135. Talitha LeFlouria, University of Virginia
  136. Adriane Lentz-Smith, Duke University
  137. Elizabeth D. Leonard, Colby College, Emeritus
  138. Kevin Levin, independent scholar
  139. Alex Lichtenstein, Indiana University Bloomington
  140. Jeffrey L. Littlejohn,  Sam Houston State University
  141. Samuel Livingston, Morehouse College
  142. Gretchen Long, Williams College
  143. James W. Loewen, Catholic University of America (In memoriam.)
  144. Robert Luckett, Jackson State University
  145. Nancy MacLean, Duke University
  146. Norman Markowitz, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
  147. Bayley J. Marquez, University of Maryland, College Park
  148. Lindsay Stallones Marshall, University of Oklahoma
  149. Christopher Martell, University of Massachusetts Boston
  150. Kate Masur, Northwestern University
  151. Timothy Patrick McCarthy, Harvard University
  152. Jillean McCommons, University of Kentucky, PhD Student
  153. Austin McCoy, University of Michigan
  154. W. Caleb McDaniel, Rice University
  155. Erik S. McDuffie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  156. Charles McKinney, Rhodes College
  157. Keri Leigh Merritt, independent scholar
  158. Nancy Raquel Mirabal, University of Maryland, College Park
  159. Carl Mirra, Adelphi University
  160. Brian Mitchell, University of Arkansas Little Rock
  161. Koritha Mitchell, The Ohio State University
  162. Aldon Morris, Northwestern University
  163. Brent Morris, University of South Carolina, Beaufort
  164. Guy Emerson Mount, Auburn University
  165. William Mountz, Missouri Southern State University
  166. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Harvard Kennedy School
  167. G. Derek Musgrove, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  168. Megan Kate Nelson, historian and writer, Lincoln, Massachusetts
  169. Jeremy Nesoff, Facing History and Ourselves
  170. Marcus P. Nevius, University of Rhode Island
  171. Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander, Norfolk State University
  172. Rebecca R. Noel, Plymouth State University
  173. Jody Noll, Georgia State University
  174. Arlisha R. Norwood, Baruch College
  175. Margo Okazawa-Rey, San Francisco State University, Emeritus
  176. Paul Ortiz, University of Florida
  177. Tyler D. Parry, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  178. Charles M. Payne, Rutgers University Newark
  179. Jeffrey B. Perry, independent scholar
  180. Charles Postel, San Francisco State University
  181. Margaret Power, Illinois Institute of Technology
  182. Bradley Proctor, The Evergreen State College
  183. Benjamin Railton, Fitchburg State University
  184. Ray Raphael, Journal of the American Revolution
  185. Josiah Rector, University of Houston
  186. Marcus Rediker, University of Pittsburgh
  187. Rachel B. Reinhard, UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project
  188. J. T. Roane, Arizona State University
  189. Alaina E. Roberts, University of Pittsburgh
  190. Dylan Rodríguez, University of California, Riverside
  191. David Roediger, University of Kansas
  192. Hannah Rosen, William & Mary
  193. Adam Rothman, Georgetown University
  194. Joshua D. Rothman, University of Alabama
  195. Mark Charles Roudané, independent scholar
  196. Leslie Rowland, University of Maryland
  197. Calvin Schermerhorn, Arizona State University
  198. Jack Schneider, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  199. Debra Schultz, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY
  200. Kathryn Schumaker, University of Oklahoma
  201. Leslie A. Schwalm, University of Iowa
  202. Campbell F. Scribner, University of Maryland, College Park
  203. David Silkenat, University of Edinburgh
  204. Bryant SimonTemple University
  205. Alan Singer, Hofstra University
  206. Manisha Sinha, University of Connecticut
  207. Clint Smith, New America
  208. J. Douglas Smith, independent scholar
  209. Robyn C. Spencer, Lehman College, CUNY
  210. Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative
  211. William Sturkey, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  212. James L. Swarts, SUNY Geneseo, Emeritus
  213. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Princeton University
  214. Quintard Taylor, University of Washington, Emeritus
  215. Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College
  216. Heather Ann Thompson, University of Michigan
  217. Sheneese Thompson, Bowie State University
  218. Akinyele Umoja, Georgia State University
  219. Michael Vorenberg, Brown University
  220. Kevin Waite, Durham University
  221. Corey D. B. Walker, University of Richmond
  222. Peter Wallenstein, Virginia Tech
  223. Valethia Watkins, Howard University
  224. Jill Watts, California State University San Marcos
  225. Stephen A. West, Catholic University of America
  226. Laura Wexler, Yale University
  227. Craig Steven Wilder, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  228. Isabel Wilkerson, author
  229. Chad Williams, Brandeis University
  230. David Williams, Valdosta State University, Emeritus
  231. Kidada E. Williams, Wayne State University
  232. Learotha Williams Jr., Tennessee State University
  233. Mason B. Williams, Williams College
  234. Naomi R Williams, Rutgers University
  235. Shannen Dee Williams, Villanova University
  236. Yohuru Williams, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota
  237. Nan Elizabeth Woodruff, Pennsylvania State University
  238. Joshua K. Wright, Trinity Washington University
  239. Donald Yacovone, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University
  240. 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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