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.


  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. Joseph Bagley, Georgia State University
  12. Bruce E. Baker, Newcastle University
  13. Davarian L. Baldwin, Trinity College
  14. Jared Ball, author
  15. Simon Balto, The University of Iowa
  16. David Barber, University of Tennessee at Martin
  17. Alice L. Baumgartner, University of Southern California
  18. Kabria Baumgartner, University of New Hampshire
  19. Mario Beatty, Howard University
  20. Justin Behrend, SUNY Geneseo
  21. Kathleen Belew, Northwestern University
  22. Richard Benson, University of Pittsburgh
  23. Dan Berger, University of Washington, Bothell
  24. Iver Bernstein, Washington University in St. Louis
  25. Stephen A. Berrey, University of Michigan
  26. Tithi Bhattacharya, Purdue University
  27. Derek W. Black, University of South Carolina
  28. Richard Blackett, Vanderbilt University, Emeritus
  29. Keisha N. Blain, University of Pittsburgh
  30. William A. Blair, Penn State, Emeritus
  31. Eladio Bobadilla, University of Pittsburgh
  32. Christopher Bonner, University of Maryland, College Park
  33. Taylor Branch, author
  34. Allyson Brantley, University of La Verne
  35. Brandi Brimmer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  36. Nancy K. Bristow, University of Puget Sound
  37. Joshua Brown, Johns Hopkins University
  38. David Busch, Case Western Reserve University
  39. Say Burgin, Dickinson College
  40. Orville Vernon Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  41. Michael Butler, Flagler College
  42. Kia Lilly Caldwell, UNC-Chapel Hill
  43. Greg Carr, Howard University
  44. Jim Casey, Princeton University
  45. Daphne R. Chamberlain, Tougaloo College
  46. Marcia Chatelain, Georgetown University
  47. Christy Clark-Pujara, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  48. Robert Cohen, NYU Steinhardt
  49. Peter Cole, Western Illinois University
  50. Christy S. Coleman, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation
  51. Dierdre Cooper Owens, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  52. Matthew Countryman, University of Michigan
  53. Karen L. Cox, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  54. Emilye Crosby, SUNY Geneseo
  55. Diana D’Amico Pawlewicz, University of North Dakota
  56. Robert Dannin, independent scholar
  57. Joshua Davis, University of Baltimore
  58. Kelley Fanto Deetz, University of California, Berkeley
  59. Catherine J. Denial, Knox College
  60. Michael Dennis, Acadia University
  61. Ajamu A. Dillahunt, Michigan State University, PhD Student
  62. Rebecca Dixon, Tennessee State University
  63. L. Mara Dodge, Westfield State University
  64. Adam H Domby, Auburn University
  65. Gregory P. Downs, University of California, Davis
  66. Jim Downs, Gettysburg College
  67. Kim Dulaney, Chicago State University
  68. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Rutgers University
  69. Natanya Duncan, Queens College City University of New York
  70. Peter Dreier, Occidental College
  71. Taulby H. Edmondson, Virginia Tech
  72. Ansley T. Erickson, Teachers College, Columbia University
  73. Ashley Farmer, University of Texas-Austin
  74. Andrew Feffer, Union College
  75. Crystal N. Feimster, Yale University
  76. Johanna Fernandez, Baruch College, CUNY
  77. Eileen Findlay, American University
  78. Jerise Fogel, Montclair State University
  79. Eric Foner, Columbia University, Emeritus
  80. P. Gabrielle Foreman, Penn State University
  81. Robert Forrant, University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  82. Catherine Fosl, University of Louisville
  83. Signe Fourmy, University of Texas at Austin
  84. Nishani Frazier, North Carolina State University
  85. Laura E. Free, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
  86. David M. P. Freund, University of Maryland, College Park
  87. Shannon Frystak, East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania
  88. Kevin Gannon, Grand View University
  89. Irene Gendzier, Boston University, Emeritus
  90. Judith Giesberg, Villanova University
  91. Lawrence Goldstone, independent scholar
  92. Van E. Gosse, Franklin & Marshall
  93. Francis Gourrier, Kenyon College
  94. Frank Andre Guridy, Columbia University
  95. Hannah Gurman, New York University
  96. Walter D. Greason, Macalester College
  97. Hilary N. Green, Davidson College
  98. Caroline Grego, independent scholar
  99. Tona Hangen, Worcester State University
  100. Steven Hahn, New York University
  101. Jon N. Hale, University of South Carolina
  102. Dennis Patrick Halpin, Virginia Tech
  103. Rachel E. Harding, University of Colorado, Veterans of Hope Project
  104. Claudrena N. Harold, University of Virginia
  105. LaShawn D. Harris, Michigan State University
  106. Leslie M. Harris, Northwestern University
  107. Wesley Hogan, Duke University
  108. Woody Holton, University of South Carolina
  109. Natalie Hopkinson, Howard University
  110. Gerald Horne, University of Houston
  111. William Horne, Villanova University
  112. Tera W. Hunter, Princeton University
  113. Karl Jacoby, Columbia University
  114. Kellie Carter Jackson, Wellesley College
  115. Lawrence Jackson, Johns Hopkins University
  116. Ramon Jackson, South Carolina Department of Archives and History
  117. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, The Ohio State University
  118. Gaye Theresa Johnson, University of California at Los Angeles
  119. Ida E. Jones, Morgan State
  120. Jonathan S. Jones, Virginia Military Institute
  121. Martha Suzanne Jones, Johns Hopkins University
  122. Peniel E. Joseph, University of Texas at Austin
  123. Nick Juravich, University of Massachusetts, Boston
  124. Aaron Katz, University of Washington, Seattle
  125. Judith S. Kaufman, Hofstra University
  126. Julie Keiffer-Lewis, De Anza College
  127. Robin D. G. Kelley, UCLA
  128. Ibram X. Kendi, Boston University
  129. Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie, Howard University
  130. Barclay T. Key, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  131. Kwasi Konadu, Colgate University
  132. J. Morgan Kousser, Caltech
  133. Dale Kretz, independent scholar
  134. Chenjerai Kumanyika, New York University
  135. Peter Kuznick, American University
  136. Louis M. Kyriakoudes, Middle Tennessee State University
  137. Adam Laats, Binghamton University (SUNY)
  138. Stephanie M. Lampkin, Jane and Littleton Mitchell Center for African American Heritage
  139. Ashleigh Lawrence, University of Colorado Boulder
  140. Talitha LeFlouria, University of Virginia
  141. Adriane Lentz-Smith, Duke University
  142. Elizabeth D. Leonard, Colby College, Emeritus
  143. Kevin Levin, independent scholar
  144. Alex Lichtenstein, Indiana University Bloomington
  145. Jeffrey L. Littlejohn,  Sam Houston State University
  146. Samuel Livingston, Morehouse College
  147. Gretchen Long, Williams College
  148. James W. Loewen, Catholic University of America (In memoriam.)
  149. Robert Luckett, Jackson State University
  150. Clarence Lusane, Howard University
  151. Nancy MacLean, Duke University
  152. Norman Markowitz, Rutgers University, New Brunswick
  153. Bayley J. Marquez, University of Maryland, College Park
  154. Lindsay Stallones Marshall, Illinois State University
  155. Christopher Martell, University of Massachusetts Boston
  156. Kate Masur, Northwestern University
  157. Timothy Patrick McCarthy, Harvard University
  158. Jillean McCommons, University of Kentucky, PhD Student
  159. Austin McCoy, West Virginia University
  160. W. Caleb McDaniel, Rice University
  161. Erik S. McDuffie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  162. Charles McKinney, Rhodes College
  163. Keri Leigh Merritt, independent scholar
  164. Nancy Raquel Mirabal, University of Maryland, College Park
  165. Carl Mirra, Adelphi University
  166. Brian Mitchell, Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Head of Research
  167. Koritha Mitchell, The Ohio State University
  168. Aldon Morris, American Sociological Association
  169. Brent Morris, Clemson University
  170. Guy Emerson Mount, Wake Forest University
  171. William Mountz, Missouri Southern State University
  172. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Harvard Kennedy School
  173. G. Derek Musgrove, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  174. Megan Kate Nelson, historian and writer, Lincoln, Massachusetts
  175. Scott Reynolds Nelson, University of Georgia
  176. Jeremy Nesoff, Facing History and Ourselves
  177. Marcus P. Nevius, University of Rhode Island
  178. Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander, Norfolk State University
  179. Rebecca R. Noel, Plymouth State University
  180. Jody Noll, Georgia State University
  181. Arlisha R. Norwood, Baruch College
  182. Margo Okazawa-Rey, San Francisco State University, Emeritus
  183. Paul Ortiz, University of Florida
  184. Tyler D. Parry, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  185. Charles M. Payne, Rutgers University Newark
  186. Jeffrey B. Perry, independent scholar
  187. Charles Postel, San Francisco State University
  188. Margaret Power, Illinois Institute of Technology
  189. Bradley Proctor, The Evergreen State College
  190. Benjamin Railton, Fitchburg State University
  191. Ray Raphael, Journal of the American Revolution
  192. Josiah Rector, University of Houston
  193. Marcus Rediker, University of Pittsburgh
  194. Rachel B. Reinhard, UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project
  195. J. T. Roane, Arizona State University
  196. Alaina E. Roberts, University of Pittsburgh
  197. Ian Rocksborough-Smith, University of the Fraser Valley
  198. Dylan Rodríguez, University of California, Riverside
  199. David Roediger, University of Kansas
  200. Hannah Rosen, William & Mary
  201. Adam Rothman, Georgetown University
  202. Joshua D. Rothman, University of Alabama
  203. Mark Charles Roudané, independent scholar
  204. Leslie Rowland, University of Maryland
  205. Calvin Schermerhorn, Arizona State University
  206. Jack Schneider, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  207. Debra Schultz, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY
  208. Kathryn Schumaker, University of Oklahoma
  209. Leslie A. Schwalm, University of Iowa
  210. Campbell F. Scribner, University of Maryland, College Park
  211. David Silkenat, University of Edinburgh
  212. Bryant SimonTemple University
  213. Alan Singer, Hofstra University
  214. Manisha Sinha, University of Connecticut
  215. Clint Smith, New America
  216. J. Douglas Smith, independent scholar
  217. Robyn C. Spencer, Lehman College, CUNY
  218. Bryan Stevenson, Equal Justice Initiative
  219. William Sturkey, University of Pennsylvania
  220. James L. Swarts, SUNY Geneseo, Emeritus
  221. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Princeton University
  222. Quintard Taylor, University of Washington, Emeritus
  223. Jeanne Theoharis, Brooklyn College
  224. Heather Ann Thompson, University of Michigan
  225. Sheneese Thompson, Bowie State University
  226. Akinyele Umoja, Georgia State University
  227. Shannon Vance, East Carolina University
  228. Michael Vorenberg, Brown University
  229. Michael Wade, Appalachian State University
  230. Kevin Waite, Durham University
  231. Corey D. B. Walker, University of Richmond
  232. Peter Wallenstein, Virginia Tech
  233. Valethia Watkins, Howard University
  234. Jill Watts, California State University San Marcos
  235. Stephen A. West, Catholic University of America
  236. Laura Wexler, Yale University
  237. Craig Steven Wilder, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  238. Isabel Wilkerson, author
  239. Chad Williams, Brandeis University
  240. David Williams, Valdosta State University, Emeritus
  241. Kidada E. Williams, Wayne State University
  242. Learotha Williams Jr., Tennessee State University
  243. Mason B. Williams, Williams College
  244. Naomi R Williams, Rutgers University
  245. Shannen Dee Williams, Villanova University
  246. Yohuru Williams, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota
  247. Nan Elizabeth Woodruff, Pennsylvania State University
  248. Joshua K. Wright, Trinity Washington University
  249. Donald Yacovone, Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University
  250. 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

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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